U.S. DOT audit reveals FMCSA's effectiveness in reviewing high-risk carriers

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 7/28/2017

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General office has completed an audit of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regarding its effectiveness in investigation of high-risk carriers. The verdict: FMCSA investigations have improved, but more work needs to be done.

The audit was conducted upon the request of Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., after a fatal crash in 2014 that involved a motor carrier with a history of violations. FMCSA had flagged the motor carrier as high-risk but had not gotten around to investigating it before the crash. OIG was to review FMCSA’s timeliness in reviewing flagged carriers, effectiveness of compliance reviews and whether or not the agency implemented effective quality assurance measures for compliance reviews.

In January 2016, FMCSA implemented its High-Risk Prioritization Policy to address issues with high-risk carriers and an increasing fatal crash rate. OIG concluded that FMCSA has “improved the timeliness of its high-risk compliance reviews by narrowing its focus to carriers that require immediate intervention.”

Before the High Risk Policy, the target time for compliance reviews was 12 months. That timeline was shortened to 90 days with the new policy. On average, reviews of high-risk carriers were completed within 1.2 months, a significant improvement of 7.2 months before the High Risk Policy.

The new policy has also proven to be more efficient. During the old policy, nearly 10 percent of compliance reviews were not completed within the 12 month target. In 2016, only 2.3 percent of compliance reviews did not meet the 90-day target.

A major problem with the previous policy dealt with a broad definition of which carriers were prioritized. Approximately 6,000 carriers a year were under prioritized review under the Mandatory Policy, which simply had a category of “mandatory” or not. The High Risk Policy, which separates carriers into four categories, reduced that annual number to 2,243, ensuring that only the most severe cases were prioritized.

Although the most at-risk carriers are being reviewed in a timely manner, the efficiency of those reviews is in under scrutiny. OIG found that FMCSA’s information systems did not provide detailed information about compliance reviews. Essentially, the audit revealed that FMCSA needs to improve its quality assurance processes and compliance review data limitations.

OIG’s conclusion reveals that FMCSA’s reviews have been enhanced in terms of timeliness and quality, “it is too early to determine whether these changes will result in sustained improvements in FMCSA’s investigative practices.”

Just a few weeks ago, the Government Accountability Office released a report that found FMCSA’s information technology systems’ planning and oversights are inadequate. Although the report only focused on four systems for its study, GAO concluded that other systems, including the system for compliance analysis and performance review information, are at risk for being inadequate.

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