SPECIAL REPORT: Pilot program restrictions expected to pass Congress

| 5/24/2007

Thursday, May 24, 2007 – A supplemental spending bill has emerged from a congressional conference committee with a provision restricting the Mexican cross-border program attempt by the Bush administration.

Members from the House and Senate who were sent to the conference committee to hammer out the differences between the two chambers’ versions of the bill have agreed on the final version. Both chambers of Congress are expected to pass the bill and send it to the president by Friday, May 25.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has worked diligently educating lawmakers on the short-comings of the proposed program since its announcement in late February.

The inclusion of the restrictions on any pilot program for Mexican motor carriers was well-received by the Association.

“The fact Congress has included language reining in this program proves they have listened to the concerns of truckers and other individuals,” Rod Nofziger, director of government affairs for OOIDA.

“It also proves that Congress sees an administration unwilling to recognize the fact that those concerns are real.”

Provisions addressing the pilot program are included in Section 6901 of the agreed upon legislation.

The DOT faces a lot more paperwork before launching the pilot program if the bill is signed into law. The bill outlines quite a few notices the DOT must publish to the Federal Register – pushing the program planning out from behind closed doors.

The bill would mandate a list of laws and regulations, including commercial driver’s license requirements, that the Secretary of Transportation will accept compliance with a corresponding Mexican law. That notice will also have to include an analysis of how the U.S. and Mexican laws and regulations differ.

The public would also get a look at data and information on the pre-authorization safety audits conducted on Mexico based motor carriers granted authority to operate in the U.S. There will also be information published on standards used to evaluate the program as well as a notice outlining steps taken to protect health and safety of the public.

If passed, the provision will require the Office of Inspector General to sign off on several more provisions of Section 350 of the 2002 transportation appropriations legislation.

Section 350 outlined 22 conditions that the DOT had to meet before allowing Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate in the U.S. It required independent verification by the OIG of only eight of those conditions.

The only provision the OIG will not be required to independently certify compliance with tackles requirements on Mexican motor carriers hauling hazmat. That’s because the pilot program won’t include any hazmat or bus operations.

The supplemental bill does, however, set the stage for hazmat and bus operations, if they are first tested in a pilot program format outlined in the bill.

Once the OIG signs off on the added provisions of Section 350, its work is not done. Oversight of the program is assigned to the Inspector by the bill.

The bill charges the OIG with monitoring and review of the conduct of the program. The Inspector would then have to submit an interim report six months are the program begins to Congress and the Secretary of Transportation. A final report will also be required 60 days after the program is completed.

The Associated Press reports President George W. Bush is happy with the newest version of the supplemental appropriations bill. He is expected to sign it once it passes Congress.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor