GAO inquiry called for on CSA, amping up scrutiny of the program

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | Friday, September 14, 2012

Scrutiny of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s enforcement program, CSA, is about to go up a notch with the likelihood of a Government Accountability Office report.

During the course of a congressional hearing on the Comprehensive, Safety, Accountability program held by the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, Rep. Don Young, R-AK, long-time former chairman of the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, upped the ante for the program.

“The reason we have these hearings is we are beginning to get complaints,” Young said in his opening remarks. “My biggest concern, Mr. Chairman (John J. Duncan Jr., R-TN), is I have watched over the years agencies that lose contact with what they are trying to do through what I call gobbledygook – I love that word gobbledygook,” Young said. “Bureaucrats that have a paycheck … are doing it because they can. And that disturbs me.”

Young went on to ask FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro about the program’s method for arriving at safety rankings of motor carriers in the seven compliance categories, dubbed BASICs.

Ferro said the system is a system of algorithms that was developed over a six-year period with input from all stakeholders.

“Was their input listened to?” Young asked.

“Absolutely,” Ferro answered immediately.

“There may be a difference of opinion on that,” Young said in response.

In further questioning, Ferro defended CSA saying it was a “very sound system,” while still acknowledging it is not “perfect.”

“Then why are we having this hearing if it’s so sound? Someone doesn’t think it’s so sound,” Young said. “There are complaints, I have complaints. There is a reason for those complaints.”

“This is supposed to be a working program, to work together,” Young said to Ferro. “I’ve always been one that tries to make sure that you understand that just because you get a paycheck you have a responsibility to those you are serving to make sure it works correctly. Not that you have an illusion of how it is supposed to work. You have to listen to those you serve under the bureaucratic system.”

Young went on to ask that the Highways and Transit Subcommittee take the lead on requesting an inquiry into CSA from the Government Accountability Office. Young’s office confirmed to Land Line following the hearing that the congressman “stands ready to pursue the GAO report should his leadership be needed.”

“It is our job to review and see if there is a problem. And if there is a problem, you will fix it. If you don’t, we will,” Young said in closing during the hearing.

Concerns raised throughout the course of the hearing centered on issues such as the DataQ (data query) challenge system of contested violations calculated and tallied in the system.

Chairman Duncan questioned Ferro on the system for challenging violations, specifically when a citation is issued at the roadside and later dismissed by a court.

States are encouraged by FMCSA to take into account the information the driver presented to the court that resulted in the state citation being dropped, Ferro explained. However, that’s where the agency’s guidance stops.

“We do not today direct states to drop a violation if in fact a state charge was dropped,” Ferro said.

This is an area that remains of importance and to ensure that there is an “ongoing forum” on the issue of violations that are not removed even when a corresponding citation is dismissed, FMCSA formed a subcommittee on the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee to be a work group on CSA issues.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, tackled the issue of crash fault. Currently, the system reports are crashes without regard to fault. The lawmaker laid out a scenario where a truck was legally situated and stopped at a stop light, and through no negligence of fault of the truck driver was struck by another vehicle.

He raised the scenario to shine light on a study that determined that if a truck is in any crash, regardless of fault, the truck is 88 percent more likely to be in another crash.

“I’m still finding it hard to believe … I’m still having trouble with the validity of that conclusion of the study,” DeFazio said.

Ferro said the agency is pursuing a review of the crash fault accountability and will determine a process that sharpens CSA focus on crash risk with fault considered.

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