SPECIAL REPORT: House committee votes to end cross-border program

| 7/31/2008

Thursday, July 31, 2008 – The embattled cross-border trucking program with Mexico was dealt yet another blow in Congress today when the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed a bill unanimously that seeks to stop the program after one year.

Not only does the bill mandate the end of the program on its one-year anniversary, the bipartisan bill goes further. It would also restrict any more authority to operate beyond the border zones from being doled out to Mexican motor carriers without prior approval from Congress.

The bill drew immediate support from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“Our members have been active in fighting this program for a long time by voicing their concerns to lawmakers and we thank them for staying involved,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, along with co-sponsors Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN, Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-TN, and Rep. John Mica, R-FL, introduced HR6630 late Tuesday, July 29.

Rod Nofziger, director of government affairs for OOIDA, said the sponsors of the bill are looking to fast track the bill to the House floor for a vote.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee made short order of passing the bill during a mark-up session on Thursday, July 31.

DeFazio, along with all three of the original co-sponsors, voiced displeasure with the administration’s insistence to carry on the program despite its funding being cut.

“We’ve been over all of this before,” DeFazio said in disgust as he highlighted just a few of the problems with the cross-border program – including lack of equivalent licensing, drug testing and hours-of-service compliance in Mexico.

“These issues have not be satisfactorily addressed or resolved by the administration.”

In less than 20 minutes from introduction in committee, the bill was passed unanimously on a voice vote.

“The leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are looking to pass this bill out of committee and have it teed up for a vote by the full House when they return from August recess,” Nofziger said.

The bill calls for the ongoing cross-border trucking program with Mexico to end no later than Sept. 6, 2008 – one year to the day after the program was launched by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“There is little doubt the administration will try to extend the program beyond its anniversary. They’ve consistently ignored Congressional directives to terminate it. It’s vital that this bill be passed,” Spencer said.

As a first matter of business, the bill mandates an end to the current demonstration project. But, in a move to prevent any other programs from cropping up, the bill also seeks to restrict the U.S. Department of Transportation from granting authority to any more Mexico-based motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zone after Sept. 6.

The bill goes far beyond just seeking an end to the current program and preventing a new one from starting up, DeFazio and the co-sponsors obviously want to know the real impact of the program. The bill mandates a couple of different reports dissecting the goings-on in the program.

First, the bill reiterates the fact that the DOT’s Office of Inspector General is to complete a report reviewing complete compliance of the program as required by Section 6901 of the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007.

Such OIG audits have been required since the passage of the 2002 transportation appropriations legislation Section 350. However, that legislation only required the OIG to sign off on FMCSA’s compliance on just eight provisions within Section 350 and update its audits annually. DOT officials could just certify that the department complied with the rest of Section 350.

Not so anymore with the passage of Section 6901. The Inspector General is now required by law to certify DOT’s compliance with 22 additional provisions for conducting a cross-border program with Mexico.

DeFazio’s current bill calls for the audit of the 22 additional provisions to be completed 60 days after the bill is signed into law.

HR6630 also addresses oversight of the program. The bill seeks to establish an independent review panel that is to report to Congress on a variety of aspects of the program.

The independent panel is called on to:

  • Evaluate the effects on motor carrier safety, including an analysis of any wrecks involving motor carriers participating in the demonstration project;
  • Recommend modifications to the process of granting authority to Mexico-based motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones; and
  • Recommend modifications needed for monitoring future operations of participating carriers.

The bill also calls for the secretary of transportation to report on a variety of details on the program in a report to Congress.

The secretary would be required by the bill to report to Congress:

  • The number and names of U.S. and Mexico-domiciled motor carriers that participated in the program and how many vehicles each one utilized;
  • The number of border crossings by each of the participating carriers, including the number of crossings that resulted in the motor carrier operating beyond the commercial zone;
  • An itemization of safety and operations violations found in pre-authorization safety audits, compliance reviews and roadside inspections along with a breakdown of the most frequent violations;
  • A cost analysis to both the federal government and the states for implementing and overseeing the cross-border program; and
  • Steps taken to terminate the authority to operate beyond commercial zones of motor carriers participating in the program after the end of the program.

The bill more than likely will not be voted on by the full House until members return from their August recess. Despite that lull in congressional action, Nofziger said it is still very important to voice your support of the bill for an impending vote on the House floor when they return.

To read HR6630, click here.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor