Interim report highlights cross-border program shortcomings

| 3/11/2008

The cross-border program with Mexico isn’t living up to its billing according to an interim report on the program issued by the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General.

Despite numerous assurances and estimates presented to Congress by the Department of Transportation, six months into it the program is lacking in participation and oversight, according to the March 10 Inspector General’s report.

“This reports confirms what OOIDA has said all along, this DOT is long on talk and short on follow-through when it comes to the cross-border program,” said Rick Craig, OOIDA director of regulatory affairs.

The report states that participation in the program is lower than expected. In fact, the participation is so low that “no reliable statistical projections regarding safety attributes can be made at this point,” according to the report.

Initially, DOT officials envisioned that 100 carriers would participate in the program. The OIG report points out that only 19 Mexican carriers had been granted authority at the six-month anniversary of the start of the program, and one of those carriers had since dropped out of the program.

The report indicates that 28 more carriers are qualified to participate in the program, but they have not filed the required proof of insurance to run in the U.S. If those carriers receive final approval to operate as part of the program, the OIG report points out that would only be 47 companies participating in the program – less than half of the initial goal of 100 companies.

“This comes as no real surprise given that truckers in both the U.S. and Mexico are not in favor of this program,” Craig said. “Big business is the only group pushing for this program to continue.”

The Mexican companies currently participating in the program completed only 247 trips beyond the border zone into the U.S. within the first six months of the program. However, the program participants have made 3,680 trips into the U.S. total.

Each truck that is participating in the program is supposed to be inspected every time it enters the U.S. According to the Inspector General’s report, however, that may very well not be happening at this point. The inspections are to include the equipment and the driver’s records and his or her ability to demonstrate English proficiency.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration developed 25 site-specific border crossing plans in conjunction with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel to carry out the checks at the border.

“According to an FMCSA official, FMCSA is still gathering information for this control, and is exploring other methods to verify that every Mexican truck and driver is checked at the border,” the report states.

“Until FMCSA implements a quality control check using CBP, or another valid source of data, to establish a baseline for the number of crossings, like FMCSA, we will have no assurances that all checks are being conducted as required.”

Craig said inspections at the border have been of huge concern to the Association, even before the cross-border program was initiated.

“Research by OOIDA has revealed serious flaws in the inspection processes at the border,” Craig said. “Statistics within FMCSA’s own databases prove that many out-of-service violations are ignored and trucks are allowed to enter the U.S. when they should be put out-of-service.

“Now we’re seeing that the promise to inspect every truck every time it enters the U.S. is just more rhetoric out of the Department of Transportation,” Craig said.

The report points out that in the investigation the Inspector General’s office found 44 crossing records that had incomplete responses such as stating “not applicable” for recording a primary CVSA decal number or leaving blank the space for English language proficiency testing.

The report noted that previous deficiencies with the Mexican conviction database – a database intended to track traffic convictions of Mexican drivers occurring in the U.S. – had been remedied. States that had previously not entered information into the database, or entered it incorrectly, have since corrected the omissions and errors according to the report.

DOT officials also promised members of Congress that participating trucks in the program would be tracked with global positioning systems. The report states that 82 units had been installed as of Feb. 21, and plans were being finalized for an additional 19 units.

However, the report did not review any data that had been captured by the currently functioning GPS units.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor