The costs of transparency

A coalition of 10 commercial transportation associations recently petitioned Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to order FMCSA to stop posting the SMS scores on the CSA website. At almost the same time, OSHA is asking for additional comments on a recently proposed rulemaking where injury and illness data could be made public for all companies with 20 or more employees. Beltway bureaucrats appear to be taking the White House pledge for increased transparency a little too far.

I doubt that anyone would argue against the goals of FMCSA to reduce truck accidents by improving the reporting functions of roadside inspections. This data is definitely an indicator of the safety performance for a fleet. But it is exactly that, one indicator. There are a large number of factors that determine safety and the SMS scores are only part of the equation. Compounding the problem is the fact that the government has no data that proves making the SMS scores available to the public has a positive impact on safety. Quite often this information is inaccurate, misused, and a poor reflection of actual performance on the highway.

Across town, the bureaucrats at OSHA are convinced that allowing the public to view injury and illness data will improve workplace safety. Again, they have no data that indicates or even suggests that will be the case. Not surprisingly, the labor groups are behind the proposal 100% because they have convinced the agency that companies regularly discourage employees from reporting injuries and illnesses (without any data to prove it). And while OSHA is looking for additional comments, only one question is related to the effectiveness of making the data available to the public.

Government transparency is a double-edged sword. In some instances, it is the solution to our problems as a nation because our elected officials and civil servants can be held to a higher degree of accountability. But when that transparency extends beyond the beltway and into the private sector, it usually leads to higher costs for the businesses that fuel the economy.

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