Senator goes after reform of FMCSA

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | Thursday, June 25, 2015

Frustration, controversial regs, and flawed carrier safety scoring systems prompted Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., to introduce legislation on Wednesday targeting reform of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

“From industry to law enforcement and safety organizations, stakeholders often express frustration with FMCSA’s lack of follow-through, transparency or response. These challenges have culminated in the controversial 2013 hours of service rulemaking and the flawed Compliance, Safety, Accountability commercial carrier scoring program.

“With an important mission of ensuring commercial carrier safety, FMCSA is deeply in need of regulatory reform,” states an analysis of the bill, The Truck Safety Reform Act or S1669, released by Fischer.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association threw its support behind Fischer’s bill immediately.

“Reform of the FMCSA has been a long time coming,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer. “We thank Sen. Fischer for her leadership in introducing this important legislation that will bring about that sorely needed change.

“Professional drivers spend the majority of their lives on the road. No other drivers on the road are as concerned about highway safety as they are. It’s time regulations reflect that instead of vilifying them.”

The Senate bill is designed to provide transparency in the regulatory process and better opportunities for input from industry stakeholders and the general public as well.

A review of rules, guidance, regulations and enforcement policies would be mandated every five years by the legislation if passed into law. It would direct the agency to conduct comprehensive review and publicly release a report detailing an inventory of rules and guidance.

In addition, the agency will have to determine whether the rules and guidance are consistent and clear; current and consistent with the state of the industry; uniform and consistently enforceable; and whether guidance is still necessary.

The bill doesn’t stop with the review. It also places the agency on a 24-month deadline following each five-year review to amend the current regulations and enforcement policies to ensure that they are consistent and uniform.

Fischer’s bill also seeks to push more of the guidance process out into the public forum. The bill would mandate that all new and reissued guidance be published in the Federal Register. The bill also would prevent the agency from issuing any medical guidance without a formal notice and comment process, unless there is a declared public health emergency from the Centers for Disease Control or the Department of Health and Human Services.

How the agency approaches new regulations would have to change, too. Fischer’s bill mandates that the FMCSA would have to specify how it will evaluate future rules to make sure they are achieving what they are designed to. In addition, the public is to be afforded the chance to submit comments on whether a performance-based incentive would be better than another regulation.

The bill will strengthen FMCSA’s cost-benefit analysis of new rules and dictates that the analysis be independently peer reviewed by experts. If it is a costly rule of more than $1 million, the agency would have to issue an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking to see if a negotiated rulemaking is warranted – the process the agency used to start the path toward a driver training regulation.

Fischer’s bill would force the agency to justify new regulations with best science and technical information; benefits and costs of potential alternatives; available alternatives, including economic incentives; and data on how a new regulation will actually improve safety.

Watchdogging of the process is also included in the bill, with mandated oversight of the rulemaking process from the Transportation Research Board or the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General.

Finally, the bill also pushes the petition process into the daylight, mandating that the agency would have to prioritize petitions based on the likelihood of safety improvements and respond to petitions within six months after they are submitted. A public database of petitions and the disposition of each would also have to be maintained.

OOIDA, along with the American Trucking Associations and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, supports Fischer’s efforts to reform the FMCSA. OOIDA has advocated a need for a new approach at the agency under its #fixFMCSA initiative on The website offers users easy access to communicate their support of reforming FMCSA and of S1669, The Truck Safety Reform Act.

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