By Ron Nofziger
OOIDA Director of government affairs
Like many folks, every January I think through a handful of New Year’s resolutions as well as reflect back on how well I did with pledges to myself from the previous year (historically, I’m batting somewhere around .400). Every January I also get amusement and even a little insight out of reading predictions that are made for the upcoming year by modern day Nostradamus or Jean Dixon wannabes.
I thought I might try my hand at a few of my own 2010 predictions.
First of all, with the abundance of issues brewing related to highway funding, trucking safety, transportation security and the environment, I predict that 2010 will be the most significant year for professional truckers and the trucking industry in Washington, DC, in a very long time – both on Capitol Hill and in federal agencies such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Since last year, the most important legislation in the works for truckers has been the “Highway Bill” or, as I like to call it, “the mother of all transportation and trucking bills.” The multiyear highway bill lays out not only the funding for virtually all federal highway-related construction and maintenance programs but also where the money for those programs will come from (think fuel taxes, tolls, federal excise taxes, etc.). It also lays out guidance for federal highway safety and trucking regulatory enforcement programs.
The last six-year highway bill (SAFETEA-LU) expired on Sept. 30, 2009, and Congress has already passed three short-term extensions of its programs, the latest expiring this February.
I predict that while House Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar from Minnesota and Highways Subcommittee Chairman Peter DeFazio from Oregon will continue their valiant fight to get a highway bill completed in 2010, they will be hampered in their efforts by the Senate, the White House, the economy, a growing budget deficit and the midterm Congressional elections in November.
On a related note, legislation focused on specific issues such as truck parking or truck weights and lengths, which would normally pass as part of the much larger highway bill, will likely be kept from moving forward in the legislative process as consideration of the highway bill itself is kept in a holding pattern.
On the regulatory side of things, I predict that new FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro and her colleagues at the agency will be some of the busiest folks in President Obama’s administration. They already have a full plate of matters to consider, including EOBRs, driver training rules and broker oversight. First and foremost, they will be working feverishly to draft and publish a new proposed hours-of-service rule by this August.
While I am not going to be so bold as to predict what the proposed HOS rule will ultimately look like, I am optimistic that the FMCSA will be taking into consideration much more of the economic realities of the trucking world than they have previously.
At her Senate confirmation hearing, Ms. Ferro testified: “Uncompensated time, compensation by the mile or load, professional drivers classified as laborers – these are all aspects of a supply-chain model that rewards squeezing transportation cost out of the equation, factors that shift the cost onto the driving public and professional driver.”
This acknowledgment of the connection between economics and safety is a marked change from the past, to say the least.
While 2009 was certainly an active year for transportation and trucking matters in Washington, we will see a whole lot more action in 2010. The past may be written in stone, but the future has yet to happen. So the opportunity exists for us to make it better than the past.
As one of our New Year’s resolutions, I recommend that all of us commit to making regular contact with our lawmakers and public officials to help them make decisions and take actions that will create a brighter future for truckers and for the trucking industry. LL