What happens to trucking if the federal government shuts down?

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | Thursday, September 26, 2013

The U.S. Department of Transportation and its agencies are making plans in the event Congress fails to pass an annual funding bill and government programs are shut down. As far as trucking and safety programs are concerned, most would go on functioning as normal – at least for a while – in the event of a shutdown.

Passing an annual funding bill is a duty of Congress, but this year the U.S. House and Senate are at loggerheads about a provision in the bill dealing with the Affordable Care Act, the health care law.

The House passed a funding bill that strips funding from the Affordable Care Act, while the proposed version in the Senate does not strip the funding.

Should the House and Senate fail to reach an agreement by Sept. 30, which is the end of the federal fiscal year, many government agencies and employees could be shut down and furloughed.

The U.S. DOT has 58,000 employees, including those who work for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Federal Highway Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Those agencies that affect trucking and safety programs are funded by the Highway Trust Fund.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx issued a memo to DOT employees to outline the situation.

“Some employees will be excepted (from the shutdown) because their work directly addresses emergency circumstances, while others will not be subject to furlough because their positions are not supported by annual appropriations, and even these categories may change based on the length of the potential shutdown,” Foxx wrote Wednesday, Sept. 25.

“I know that this uncertainty has put everyone in a difficult situation, and should a lapse occur, that it could impose hardships on many employees as well as the people that we serve every day,” Foxx wrote. “We will work closely with all staff to do our best to support you throughout this period.”

OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Ryan Bowley told Land Line that any programs directly supported by the Highway Trust Fund should survive a government shutdown, at least in the short term as long as reserves hold up.

“The biggest impacts within DOT, at least initially, will be the agencies like the Federal Railroad Administration that are one-hundred percent funded out of the General Fund.” 

In addition, a federal shutdown would not directly affect roadside trucking enforcement, scale houses or inspections. Those are handled by state agencies. Most of those programs are funded through Highway Trust Fund grants that are paid out annually.

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