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New Motor Carrier Safety Administration begins to take shape

TheĀ  first details of the new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration were revealed in a series of meetings held just before Christmas at the Department of Transportation's headquarters in Washington, DC. Julie Cirillo, current program manager at the expiring Office of Motor Carrier Safety, released a preliminary organizational chart of the new agency and described some of the rationale behind its structure. The new agency is modeled after the other modal agencies (the Federal Aviation Administration and Federal Railroad Administration).

Heading up the agency will be an administrator and deputy administrator. They must be appointed by the president and approved by the Senate. Under these positions will be an assistant administrator (a career-government position) who will act as the chief executive officer or day-to-day manager of the agency. Although not announced at the meeting, the assistant administrator role is a likely position for Cirillo in the new agency. She stated very plainly during the meeting that despite rumors to the contrary, she has no immediate plans to retire from the government.

According to the preliminary organizational chart, the new administration will have four main divisions, each headed by an associate administrator. They are 1) administration (support offices); 2) research, technology and information management; 3) policy and program development; and 4) enforcement and program delivery.

The research, technology and information management division will consist of two subdivisions. One will be focused on the development of technology to improve safety - an important priority for the new agency, according to Cirillo. The other subdivision, data analysis and information systems, will gather information related to inspections, compliance reviews, crash causation, a census of the trucking industry and the record keeping of DOT numbers and licensing. Oversight of compliance with proper insurance registration (which has been paired with licensing in the past) will be placed in the enforcement and compliance subdivision. Enforcement and compliance will also be the home for oversight of the truth-in-leasing regulations.

The policy and program development office will oversee and develop agency policy and oversee regulations. This office will contain one subdivision to develop new regulations and oversee international affairs policymaking (such as the North American Free Trade Agreement). Another subdivision will oversee the policies related to vehicle standards, technology and driver and carrier operations (hours of service, new entrants, medical waivers, shipper issues and safety ratings).

The enforcement and program delivery office will oversee the largest of the four primary divisions. This includes the enforcement and compliance of safety regulations and motor carrier safety programs (the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program, commercial drivers licenses, NAFTA and border initiatives). This subdivision also includes the agency's field operations, maintaining current state offices and the four regional offices.

This agency will adopt almost all of the functions carried on by OMCS and inherited from the Interstate Commerce Commission. Missing from this organization, however, is a home for two issues of interest to the trucking industry.

The first is that of a place in the new agency to address the shortage of rest areas. This problem will be left with the Federal Highway Administration. Rest area issues are apparently being viewed as a highway infrastructure issue rather than a truck safety issue. This decision leaves the problem with an agency that may be able to provide a solution to the problem of rest areas (creating more), but does not otherwise have any contact with the trucking industry to understand that the problem exists.

The other component missing is that of an agency advisory committee. The legislation creating the agency authorized an advisory committee made up of representatives in the industry, safety groups and other interested parties. Cirillo announced, however, that the advisory committee was permissive (not mandated by the legislation) and that they were not planning to establish one (nor had they considered how one would be incorporated into the new agency). Although advisory committees to the various federal agencies that have previously overseen trucking regulation were considered by some to have been of questionable utility, this seems like a missed opportunity to open the door to input regarding current trends and conditions within a rapidly-changing industry.

Currently, Cirillo is the acting deputy administrator and acting chief safety officer. Although unspoken at the meeting, it is thought that the president's appointment of an administrator and a deputy administrator (both of whom must be approved by the Senate) will take much longer than the rest of the agency to be set in place in the upcoming election year.

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