SPECIAL REPORT: Start date of cross-border program up in the air

| 7/10/2007

Tuesday, July 10, 2007 – Despite a recent report published in the Washington Times, there is just too much going on right now to estimate a start date for the cross-border program, according to DOT officials.

There has been a wide range of launch dates published attributed to both sources within the Department of Transportation and Mexican officials.

At one time, July 15 had been the target. Other media sources reported being told by DOT staffers that the DOT hoped to launch the program in August. Reports in a Mexican publication announced it as being the last week in August.

The most recent target date was in a Washington Times article. According to the July 7 news story, DOT officials now say they’re waiting for a congressionally mandated audit to be completed and are now hoping to get the program going by the end of the year.

But, that’s not what a spokeswoman with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration told Land Line Magazine Tuesday afternoon.

Melissa Mazzella DeLaney with FMCSA ran down the laundry list of mandates handed down by Congress in supplemental appropriations legislation recently signed into law.

She touched on the Federal Register notices to be published, comments to be reviewed and, most importantly, the mandated review of the program by the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General.

“We also have to wait on the inspector general’s audit. The inspector general is an independent arm of the DOT, as such, we have no hand in this process. We cannot estimate or mandate a completion date for this audit,” she said.

Depending on what the OIG audit reveals, the process may entail even more steps for the Department of Transportation before the program can get off the ground.

“As you can see, a quote-unquote 'target date' is all but impossible given all those variables,” Delaney said. “There are too many balls in the air to say the program is going to start on this date. We certainly hope to commence this program by the end of the year.”

On June 19, the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General initiated an audit of the DOT’s compliance with Section 350(a) of the 2002 transportation appropriations act. Section 6901 of the war supplemental appropriations act mandated completion of an audit before a cross-border program begins.

The inspector general previously signed off on eight provisions of Section 350. Then-Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta certified compliance with the remaining provisions in Section 350 in 2002, as required.

With the passage of the supplemental appropriations act this past month, Congress opted to strengthen the requirements of Section 350 by requiring the inspector general to verify compliance with each of the requirements of the subsection.

The DOT has not fared so well in the inspector general’s previous audits. While the IG did sign off on the mandated eight provisions, the inspector general was critical of the compliance of DOT with other provisions of Section 350.

Among the provisions under review in the audit are compliance with hours-of-service regulations, compliance with U.S. drug and alcohol testing procedures, electronic verification of Mexican CDLs and many more.

The most recent audit into Section 350 conducted in 2005 took the OIG more than six months before the final report was issued. If DOT complies fully with Section 6901 of the supplemental appropriations act, the opening of the border would be on hold until the audit is complete and the OIG has completely signed off on the program.

DOT officials told the Times that only 34 Mexican carriers have been pre-approved to cross the border with 157 trucks total.

Those numbers apparently indicate that one more motor carrier, with two more trucks had passed the pre-authority safety audit since the June 8 notice published by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in the Federal Register.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor