URGENT: House to vote on ending cross-border program with Mexico

| 9/8/2008

Monday, Sept. 8, 2008 – The cross-border trucking program with Mexico will be under the gun again tomorrow when the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on ending the program – and preventing any new ones from starting.

A vote on HR6630 is expected on the House floor sometime Tuesday, and truckers are being urged to call their lawmakers in support of the measure.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association issued a National Call to Action alerting its members to the upcoming vote. To read the Call to Action, click here.

The bill got off to a running start when it was introduced in late July.

The bipartisan bill not only seeks to mandate the end of the current program, but also goes further. It seeks to restrict any more authority to operate beyond the border zones from being doled out to Mexican motor carriers without prior approval from Congress.

The bill drew immediate support from the OOIDA.

“Our members have been active in fighting this program for a long time by voicing their concerns to lawmakers, and we thank them for staying involved,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president.

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 late in the day on July 29.

The bill passed the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure unanimously two days later – teeing the bill up for consideration by the full house when members returned from the recess on Sept. 8.

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.

As a first matter of business, the bill mandates an end to the current demonstration project. But, in a move to prevent any other programs from cropping up, the bill also seeks to 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 and preventing a new one from starting up. DeFazio and the other co-sponsors obviously want to know the real impact of the program. The bill mandates a couple of 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 complied 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.

To read HR6630, click here.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor