As truckers continue to track the progress of the highway bill, they should be aware of another bill on Capitol Hill that could affect small-business truckers who are qualified to haul loads for the Department of Defense.
Like the highway bill, the reauthorization of defense programs is currently in conference, meaning that House and Senate lawmakers have passed separate plans and are trying to negotiate final language that satisfies both chambers.
In any given year, the Department of Defense ships approximately 70,000 loads. Carriers and small businesses that haul them must meet strict criteria for safety and homeland security.
During the conference process, a House committee inserted language brought forward by safety groups and the National Transportation Safety Board to require even stricter criteria for haulers of DOD loads. The effect could squeeze some carriers and businesses out of the DOD realm.
If the House language is adopted, haulers of certain military materials – such as missiles, weapons, ammunition, explosives, radioactive materials and classified items – would be required to have rollover stability systems, collision warning systems, a safety performance history not exceeding the 50th percentile under CSA, round-the-clock office staffing and $15 million in public liability insurance.
Senate language intervenes, trusting the current DOD criteria and precautions for sensitive loads.
OOIDA supports the Senate language on that provision and questions the tactics used by House Armed Services Committee members and staffers to insert changes.
“This is an interesting tactic considering it wasn’t discussed at any hearing and didn’t go through a markup,” said Laura O’Neill, government affairs director for OOIDA.
“It was an attempt by someone to pretty much preclude small businesses from being able to haul that particular DOD freight,” she said. “It has all of these safety requirements and technologies that small businesses typically don’t have. The military saves a lot of money by being able to contract with small businesses to haul freight that may be sensitive in nature but not necessarily harmful to the public if there is an accident. The language is really excessive, unnecessary, and designed to give a collective few a monopoly on this type of hauling.”
Senate language calls for the DOD to evaluate current criteria and make a report.
Small-business truckers recognize that the proposed changes by the House could end up favoring certain vendors and carriers.
“It’s a push. It’s a money thing,” OOIDA Senior Member Danny Schnautz said. “DOD loads are a very hard market to break into to begin with. As they enhance those rules, it’s going to be even more stringent.”
Schnautz points out that many truckers have endorsements to haul hazmat, including some that is highly volatile. Those truckers, he said, have their hoops to jump through, but they’re not over-regulated to a point the loads sit on the docks with no one to haul them.
“A lot of military stuff is not special except that it may be classified. It’s not explosive and doesn’t need rollover stability systems,” he said. “The private sector hauls sensitive loads every day and does it well.”