The Small Business in Transportation Coalition (SBTC), a 15,000-member non-profit transportation industry trade group, recently launched an effort to defund the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), according to James Lamb, the coalition’s executive director.
In a December 26, 2019 open letter to the Roger F Wicker, chairman of the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Peter A DeFazio, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, on which, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao was copied, SBTC lambasted the FMCSA, an agency within the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), and alleged they were knowingly and recklessly delaying essential motor carrier safety enforcement funds to the states for three years in a row in violation of Federal Law.
In the letter, Lamb states:
“I write to you today representing more than 15,000 truckers and motor carriers operating in interstate commerce to ask that your committees please consider defunding and replacing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) due to failure to faithfully execute its mandate, dereliction of duty, negligent and reckless disregard for public safety, failure to abide by congressional directives, failure to reduce large truck fatalities, general incompetence, repeated violations of federal law and political corruption. We offer the following information for your review and consideration.”
Although Lamb offers 25 reasons for Congress to defund, he focuses on a what SBTC calls the chronic FMCSA practice of withholding safety enforcement funds from the states as the central reason to disband the agency, which has a $284 million annual operating budget:
“VIOLATION OF 49 U.S. Code § 14504a: More disturbingly, we pointed out on December 23, 2019 to the Secretary of Transportation how—despite their mission to ‘reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses’ for three straight years now, FMCSA has unlawfully interfered with and delayed the collection and distribution of motor carrier safety funds for use by the states to, ironically, reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses … by unreasonably stretching out rulemaking to set the Unified Carrier Registration (UCR) fees contrary to law:
“We write to you today because your department is charged with the responsibility under the UCR Act (49 U.S. Code § 14504a) of setting UCR fees and your department’s delays for three years straight in processing the UCR Board’s proposals for fees have caused—and continue to cause—industry-wide chaos and confusion.
“Indeed, for three consecutive years now, the annual UCR program has unreasonably commenced late due to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration extended rulemaking conducted contrary to federal law, which states you are required to set UCR fees for the upcoming year within 90 days of receiving the board’s fee recommendations.
“Although the UCR Agreement required the board to open the 2018 UCR renewal period on Oct 1, 2017, FMCSA rulemaking effectively caused the program to open late in January of 2018. Similarly, the 2019 UCR renewal period opened in late December 2018. And while we have no idea when FMCSA will release the final fee rule that is currently pending for the 2020 UCR renewal period, many stakeholders expect this will happen in late December or early January again.
“We cannot fathom how or why the FMCSA would think it is OK to knowingly deprive the states of safety funds critical to achieving motor carrier safety. We note the FMCSA has known—or should have known—since 2007 that such prolonger delays have a devasting (sic) impact on the states’ ability to improve motor carrier safety. It appears these bureaucrats simply do not care.”
Lamb notes that the Government Office of Accountability frowned on such delays more than a decade ago when it stated in a report to Congress:
“Some state officials told us that the delay in implementation has hindered their ability to acquire revenues, and thus regulate motor carriers and improve safety. Twenty five of 28 states that responded to our survey indicated that a delay in implementing the unified carrier fee system hindered their ability to acquire revenues, and 22 states indicated that this was a great or very great hindrance. Since the Single State Registration System expired and no new system took its place, states that collected fees under Single State Registration System have not yet been able to collect these fees during 2007. If implementation of the unified carrier fee system is not completed by the end of 2007, FMCSA officials said it is unlikely that states could recoup fees not collected to date. In addition, 23 of 28 states reported that the delay hindered their ability to regulate motor carriers, and 13 states indicated that this was a great or very great hindrance. For example, Washington state officials reported that it had to scale back its transportation regulation, such as safety audits of commercial motor vehicles, drivers, and companies, by approximately 20 percent. Finally, 19 of 28 states reported that the delay hindered their ability to improve safety programs, and 9 states indicated that this was a great or very great hindrance. Moreover, further delay could jeopardize safety and enforcement programs in certain states. For example, Michigan reported that if replacement funding is not secured by July 1, 2007, its entire enforcement program, including the federal Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program, will likely shutdown.”
Lamb also further suggests the agency has failed in its mission to improve motor carrier safety at the federal level:
“As you also know from our Oct 23, 2019 letter to you, on Oct 22, 2019 the USDOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), released highway crash fatality data for 2018 …
Although NHTSA’s release title was intended to highlight a general decrease in highway fatalities, large truck fatalities increased yet again 0.9% in 2018. This is on top of an increase of at least 4.9% in 2017, the year the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate went into effect. We note that USDOT previous reported that truck fatalities for 2017 had increased 9% and that the department has now removed from this statistic some pickup trucks from the large truck category, which, when combined with a trailer, still constitute commercial motor vehicles over 10,000 pounds, calling into question whether they are trying to skew the results to achieve a lower increase in fatality percentage. In any event, this is now a 30-year high. Large truck occupants have not died at this rate since 1988. This is abysmal and the Secretary should not be applauding this failure.
“We note the FMCSA promised drivers they would achieve a safer working environment for commercial vehicle operators after the onset of ELDs. In fact, on their website, fmcsa.dot.gov/hours-service/elds/electronic-logging-devices, FMCSA purports ‘The electronic logging device (ELD) rule—congressionally mandated as a part of MAP-21—is intended to help create a safer work environment for drivers … (emphasis added).’ This turned out to be absolutely untrue. The agency has failed to appreciate and acknowledge these statistics and will not conclude their implementation of the ELD mandate was an appalling failure. We contend the agency is captured by ‘Big Trucking’ and the true purpose of ELDs was not to improve safety as they purported to Congress and the public … but to drive up the costs of small business owners in an illegitimate, anti-competitive attack on owner-operators in collusion with larger carriers.
“FMCSA has therefore failed to improve motor carrier safety.”
The SBTC launched a new website dedicate to the cause, defundfmcsa.com, which hosts the letter and an industry poll designed to determine support for the call to defund.
SBTC’s lobbyist, Laurence Socci, advised Lamb there were already signs of support among fiscal conservatives in congress to do away with the agency. SBTC planned to distribute Lamb’s letter to the House and Senate appropriations committees.
SBTC proposed that Congress and the president create a new independent regulatory commission to replace the FMCSA, which Lamb says has been “captured” by large carriers at the expense of the smaller players in the industry and that creating a new agency is the only way to ensure reform.
SBTC is encouraging motor carriers and truckers to use the hashtag #DefundFMCSA to show support for the campaign. An ongoing straw poll shows more than 90% of respondents agree with SBTC that it is time to “sunset” the FMCSA. FMCSA was established as a separate administration within USDOT on Jan 1, 2000, pursuant to the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999. FMCSA is headquartered in Washington DC and employs more than 1,000 people in all 50 States and the District of Columbia. It replaced the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), which was dissolved by Congress in 1996. SBTC is essentially calling for a return to an ICC-like regulatory scheme to regulate interstate commerce.
Lamb points to how the USDOT inspector general has opened four audits into FMCSA’s business practices in the past 14 months. “Where there is smoke, there is usually fire,” Lamb said. “As of 2020, it’s been 25 years since Congress acted to dissolve the ICC. With a 30-year high in large truck occupant fatalities on our nation’s highways, it appears that was a mistake. FMCSA has clearly failed. We therefore call on Congress to take action to fix the motor carrier safety problem in the interest of public safety.
“This delay may also cause truck drivers to refuse to drive in interstate commerce starting on Jan 1, 2020 because they cannot comply with 2020 UCR to avoid administrative notices of violation that carry civil penalties, civil fines and/or arrest by law enforcement, thereby adversely affecting interstate commerce.”
For more information, visit truckers.com.