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12/11/2003
SPECIAL REPORT: DOT’s Inspector General notes trucking challenges for fiscal year 2004

DOT would push for more oversight of hazmat shipments and of carriers, covert monitoring of driver examiners and eliminating programs that withhold driver convictions from a commercial driving record.

The Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General has identified several management challenges for fiscal year 2004 — all of them complicated by deficit spending; decreasing trust fund revenue; increasing program needs; and pending reauthorizations in highway, intercity passenger rail, motor carriers and transit.

The Inspector General's list for fiscal year 2004 as it relates to trucking issues includes:

  • Taking aggressive action to prevent drivers from obtaining CDLs through kickbacks or other fraudulent schemes (of the more than 40,000 annual highway fatalities, 11 percent involve large trucks);
  • Strengthening the system used to identify high-risk motor carriers for review;
  • Implementing the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act to facilitate proactive identification of vehicle safety defects; and
  • Continuing to support programs for primary enforcement of seat-belt laws and prevention of drug-impaired driving.

To curb CDL fraud, the Office of the Inspector General wants more rigorous oversight of state testing programs and wants states to adopt control techniques such as the covert monitoring of driver examiners.

The Inspector General’s report also urged “promptly implementing revisions to the CDL program passed by Congress in 1999 that strengthen the regulatory framework of the program, such as a provision eliminating state programs that mask or withhold convictions from a commercial driver's record.”

Emphasis on carriers and hazmat inspection

FMCSA must also “improve tools used to select high-risk motor carriers for compliance reviews by taking aggressive steps to obtain more complete and accurate data,” the Inspector General said.

States now fail to report to FMCSA an estimated one-third of large trucks involved in crashes annually, impacting the effectiveness of the model used to target unsafe carriers for compliance reviews, the report said.

In view of this, DOT needs to take aggressive steps to coordinate hazmat inspection and enforcement efforts. This would include an education program and inspection/enforcement strategies for dealing with a common shipper who causes problems across several of the department's “modes,” such as a noncompliant hazmat shipment that uses motor carrier, rail and air.

DOT reported that hazmat incidents have been on the upswing, predominantly highway and air incidents. Over the 11 years from 1990 to 2000, incidents involving the transport of hazmat by motor carriers have doubled from 7,296 to 14,743, and incidents involving such shipments by air carriers have tripled from 470 to 1,415.

DOT also reported hazmat civil penalty collections for all modes of transportation doubled from $5.2 million in fiscal year 1990 to $11.1 million in fiscal year 1998, the most current data available.

Show me the money

The Inspector General’s office said DOT needs to improve the taxpayers' return on highway and infrastructure investments by:

  • Imposing meaningful debarment sanctions on firms that provide substandard materials or in other ways defraud highway and transit infrastructure projects;
  • Aggressively fighting motor fuel tax evasion – a drain on highway and transit revenue; and
  • Strengthening oversight of infrastructure projects to ensure they are delivered on time and within budget.

"Even if these steps result in only a 1 percent savings, they could have a dramatic impact on the taxpayers' bottom line," the report concluded.

--by Dick Larsen, senior editor

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