SPECIAL REPORT: Vote on cross-border program possible Thursday

| 7/30/2008

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 – A bill seeking an end of the cross-border trucking program with Mexico may pass out of committee as early as Thursday.

The bipartisan bill seeking an end of the program on its one-year anniversary and a thorough review of the program was introduced in the House of Representatives late Tuesday night.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, along with co-sponsors Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN, Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-TN, and Rep. John Mica, R-FL, introduced HR6630.

The bill drew immediate support from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. A national Call to Action asking OOIDA members to support HR6630 was sent out early Wednesday morning. To read the call to action, click here.

Rod Nofziger, director of government affairs for OOIDA, said the sponsors of the bill are looking to fast track the bill to the House floor for a vote.

“The leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are looking to pass this bill out of committee and have it teed up for a vote by the full House when they return from August recess,” Nofziger said.

The bill calls for the ongoing cross-border trucking program with Mexico to end no later than Sept. 6, 2008 – one year to the day after the program was launched by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“The sponsors introduced this bill in anticipation of the administration extending or expanding the program past one year,” Nofziger said.

If the bill makes its way into law, it will also restrict the U.S. Department of Transportation from granting authority to any more Mexico-based motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zone after Sept. 6.

The bill goes far beyond just seeking an end to the current program, DeFazio and the co-sponsors obviously want to know the real impact of the program. The bill mandates a couple of different reports dissecting the goings-on in the program.

First, the bill reiterates the fact that the DOT’s Office of Inspector General is to complete a report reviewing complete compliance of the program as required by Section 6901 of the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007.

Such OIG audits have been required since the passage of the 2002 transportation appropriations legislation Section 350. However, that legislation only required the OIG to sign off on FMCSA’s compliance on just eight provisions within Section 350 and update its audits annually. DOT officials could just certify that the department was in compliance with the rest of Section 350.

Not so anymore with the passage of Section 6901. The Inspector General is now required by law to certify DOT’s compliance with 22 additional provisions for conducting a cross-border program with Mexico.

DeFazio’s current bill calls for the audit of the 22 additional provisions to be completed 60 days after the bill is signed into law.

HR6630 also addresses oversight of the program. The bill seeks to establish an independent review panel that is to report to Congress on a variety of aspects of the program.

The independent panel is called on to:

  • Evaluate the effects on motor carrier safety, including an analysis of any wrecks involving motor carriers participating in the demonstration project;
  • Recommend modifications to the process of granting authority to Mexico-based motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones; and
  • Recommend modifications needed for monitoring future operations of participating carriers.

The bill also calls for the secretary of transportation to report on a variety of details on the program in a report to Congress.

The secretary would be required by the bill to report to Congress:

  • The number and names of U.S. and Mexico-domiciled motor carriers that participated in the program and how many vehicles each one utilized;
  • The number of border crossings by each of the participating carriers, including the number of crossings that resulted in the motor carrier operating beyond the commercial zone;
  • An itemization of safety and operations violations found in pre-authorization safety audits, compliance reviews and roadside inspections along with a breakdown of the most frequent violations;
  • A cost analysis to both the federal government and the states for implementing and overseeing the cross-border program; and
  • Steps taken to terminate the authority to operate beyond commercial zones of motor carriers participating in the program after the end of the program.

After its introduction Tuesday night, HR6630 was referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The Committee is expected to vote on the bill on Thursday.

OOIDA officials sent a national call-to-action out to members early Wednesday encouraging members to contact their lawmakers in support of HR6330.

Provided the bill passes out of committee on Thursday, it more than likely will not be voted on by the full House until members return from August recess. Despite that lull in Congressional action, provided the bill passes out of committee, Nofziger said it is still very important to voice your support of the bill for an impending vote on the House floor when they return.

To read HR6630, click here.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor