Lawmakers call on DOT to terminate cross-border program

By Jami Jones, senior editor | 5/6/2011

Is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration up to the task of properly monitoring a long-haul cross-border program with Mexico? Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-CA, and Rep. Daniel Lipkinski, D-IL – along with a bipartisan contingency of 34 lawmakers – have their doubts.

In a letter sent to Secretary Ray LaHood, the group called on the Department of Transportation to terminate plans to initiate another cross-border trucking program with Mexico.

They revisited the shortcomings of the previous cross-border program, saying that it “demonstrated serious gaps in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s ability to properly manage the program when they failed to assure that every Mexican truck was properly inspected at the border.”

“For all practical purposes, right now Mexico is no closer to being able to ensure the safety and security of its trucks that would operate in the U.S. than they were 10 years ago, and our ability to monitor trucks on this side of the border is equally wretched,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president.

“The only thing that has changed in the decade is that Mexico has become a far, far more dangerous place and, realistically, an impossible place for U.S. drivers to even consider operating in.”

Spencer said the Association applauds the efforts of Hunter and Lipinski. However, he went on to question “why every member of Congress hasn’t signed on.”

“How many of them would be willing to load up the family sedan and start out for Mexico City?” he asked.

In highlighting the shortcomings of the plan, the group points to the limited participation in the previous pilot program and how it cannot be used to prove FMCSA’s ability to regulate cross-border traffic.

“With the limited number of Mexican trucks that participated in (the previous) demonstration, there is concern with the FMCSA’s ability to properly monitor a future demonstration project,” the letter states.

Interestingly, the proposed program published in the Federal Register on April 13 outlines how many trucks the agency estimates will be needed to participate to collect sufficient statistical data on the program.

“The agency calculates that a total of 46 carriers participating in the program will be sufficient to achieve a target of 4,100 inspections within three years,” the notice states.

Over a three-year period, each of those motor carriers would have to cross the border twice week, averaging nearly 90 inspections per motor carrier.

Currently, without the added burden of inspecting each long-haul cross-border participating truck each time it crosses, it is widely known only a small percentage of northbound trucks are inspected – and it’s not a number easy to come by.

While many estimates vary between 3 percent and 5 percent of all U.S. bound commercial trucks facing inspection, a 2000 House of Representatives resolution reported that number at 1 percent.

That lack of oversight currently, which could be seriously affected by pulling off inspectors to conduct inspections of the long-haul trucks, leads to growing concern about cartel activity targeting the U.S.

“More importantly with the recent rise in violence in Mexico and the changing tactics of the Mexican drug cartels, we are also concerned that moving forward with this cross border trucking program at this time is not in the best interests for security along our border,”  Hunter and Lipinski wrote on behalf of the group.

The El Paso Intelligence Center reports that commercial vehicles are widely used by Mexican drug trafficking organizations. 

“Setting up a program that allows Mexican long-haul trucks to cross the border and move freely throughout the U.S. could increase this method of smuggling by the drug cartels and serve as a resource for their criminal activity,” Hunter and Lipinski wrote.

“We do not believe this cross-border trucking program is in the best interests of the taxpayer or our security.”

Copyright © OOIDA