UPDATE: FMCSA breaking ‘both letter and the spirit of the law’

| 1/23/2008

A federal lawmaker warned the Bush administration that spending federal money to keep the cross-border trucking program with Mexico afloat is in dangerous legal territory.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon and chairman of the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee, didn’t mince words when he challenged the legality of the program in a Jan. 16 letter to Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters.

“Using federal funds to continue to review the applications of Mexico-domiciled motor carriers, conduct pre-authorization safety audits, and grant new authority breaks both the letter and the spirit of the law,” DeFazio wrote.

Funding for the cross-border program ended when President George W. Bush signed the massive $555 billion omnibus-spending bill into law on Dec. 26, 2007.

The bill contained a provision that states: “None of the funds made available under this Act may be used to establish a cross-border motor carrier demonstration program to allow Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones along the international border between the United States and Mexico.”

In his letter to Peters, DeFazio wrote that he is “disturbed” by recent comments that the DOT will “not establish” any new demonstration program with Mexico.

“Although your statement parsed the difference between establishing a program and continuing one, the intent of Congress was very clear,” DeFazio wrote.

This is the second letter to Peters that addressed the “intent” behind the legislation that cut the program’s funding. The first letter was from the sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Byron Dorgan.

The North Dakota Democrat defended the intention behind the legislation to Peters in his letter.

“I asked the Senate Legislative Counsel, which drafted the provision on my behalf, for their interpretation. … The Senate Legislative Counsel maintains that the provision was ‘drafted to prohibit the use of funds for a demonstration program to allow Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate beyond certain commercial zones,’ ” Dorgan wrote to Peters on Jan. 3.

With both lawmakers calling the Bush administration out on its push to continue the program, DeFazio cautioned Peters that the administration cannot ignore the will of the people.

“I am extremely disappointed that it appears the administration plans to ignore a very strong statement made by Congress. I ask you to reconsider your decision,” DeFazio wrote.

“I hope that Congress won’t have to take further steps to compel you to protect the safety of the American people.”

– By Jami Jones, senior editor