SPECIAL REPORT: Congress OKs restrictions on cross-border program

| 5/25/2007

Friday, May 25, 2007 – The supplemental spending bill with a provision restricting the Mexican cross-border program is on its way to the president for his signature.

The bill passed both the House and Senate Thursday, May 24. Provisions addressing the pilot program are included in Section 6901 of the bill.

The Department of Transportation will face a lot more paperwork before launching the pilot program once the bill is signed into law. The bill outlines quite a few notices the DOT must publish in the Federal Register – pushing the program planning out from behind closed doors.

The bill seeks to 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 with 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 after the program begins to Congress and the Secretary of Transportation. A final report will also be required 60 days after the program is completed.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor