OIG hands FMCSA 'hefty to-do list' on cross-border trucking program

By Jami Jones, senior editor | 9/9/2011

Despite assurances from the Department of Transportation that it is full steam ahead with the long-haul cross-border trucking program with Mexico, all is not rosy with the department’s plans.

The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Transportation released its most recent audit of the cross-border program earlier this week. In it are critical areas where the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has fallen short on complying with legal requirements governing cross-border programs.

“This most recent Inspector General audit clearly shows that FMCSA has a pretty hefty to-do list before opening the border to long-haul trucks from Mexico,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer.

On-site safety reviews
The agency is required to conduct 50 percent of the pre-authority safety audits, or PASAs, and compliance reviews on-site with the motor carriers in Mexico.

“FMCSA has not finalized its plans for nor identified the specific process it will use to comply with five requirements to conduct 50 percent of PASAs and compliance reviews in Mexico, and its policy on conducting PASAs for the new pilot program does not address where the reviews will be conducted,” the OIG’s audit states.

The audit reports that up until June of this year, the FMCSA did not plan to conduct reviews in Mexico “due to safety concerns.” However, in June agency officials informed the Inspector General’s Office that they “intend to comply with the law” requiring the on-site compliance and safety reviews.

“The irony of this concern should not be lost on anyone,” Spencer said. “The agency is forging ahead to let trucks into the U.S. from a country that they are scared to send people into. Yet, they say that U.S. security has nothing to do with this program. Where is the logic in that?”

The Inspector General noted in the audit that the agency’s failure to conduct on-site safety audits would prevent the agency from complying with five more legal requirements. Those include the evaluation of a motor carrier’s safety inspection, maintenance, and repair facilities or management systems, including verification of records of periodic vehicle inspections.

Plans and training
While the Inspector General’s investigations concluded that FMCSA has the staffing to conduct inspections on the border, what those inspections will entail remains a big question mark.

“Although FMCSA has taken positive actions to improve monitoring of Mexican drivers and trucks, it has not yet addressed certain issues for implementing the pilot program,” the audit states. “Specifically, FMCSA has not (1) issued coordinated site–specific plans for checking drivers and trucks at the border, (2) established a system to verify driver and vehicle eligibility for the pilot program, (3) issued an implementation plan nor acquired electronic monitoring devices for use in the pilot program, and (4) conducted pilot program training for inspection personnel at the border and within the United States.”

“Those are some pretty significant shortcomings,” Spencer said. “In addition to having no plan to ensure those crossing the border are even part of the program, the fact that training is still needed is especially troublesome.

“We certainly hope that with this pilot program that FMCSA will embark on legitimate training of enforcement personnel rather than sending out one-page pamphlets like they did in the past.”

Additional hurdles
The cross-border program is continuing to face legal action in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit filed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association the day the program was announced on July 6.

Nearly two months later, the Teamsters and Public Citizen have started the legal wheels rolling in the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, filing a petition for review on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

Congress is also returning to work after its August recess and has legislation pending filed by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, which would put the brakes on any program.

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