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November 16, 2020
Transportation IG identifies FMCSA challenges

The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) identified fiscal year 2021 management challenges for all of the DOT’s agencies, including the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA’s challenges for the current fiscal year, which began October 1, include the changes in state funding for roadway safety due to impacts of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and resolving three open OIG recommendations.

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Agencies within the DOT must both respond to challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and implement provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the economic stimulus bill signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27.

Continuing progress in safety monitoring and enforcement and ensuring compliance with safety regulations and programs remain key challenges for the FMCSA and the other surface transportation safety agencies, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), according to the OIG. The OIG noted that although the number of fatalities in all motor vehicle crashes on U.S. roadways decreased by 3.3% from 2016 to 2018, fatalities in crashes involving large trucks or buses actually have increased by 5.8%.

The FMCSA needs to provide robust oversight of states’ compliance with requirements for commercial driver’s license (CDL) programs to support the agency’s efforts to reduce roadway crashes involving large trucks and buses. For example, the agency must monitor certified medical examiners who conduct physical examinations to confirm that drivers are qualified to operate commercial motor vehicles.

The FMCSA also must take steps to identify and prevent CDL fraud. OIG investigations have found instances of fraud related to several CDL issues, including:

  • Commercial driver medical examinations involving doctors or drivers,
  • Public corruption of state employees and CDL third-party testers, and
  • “Reincarnated” carriers and other CDL-related issues.

Reincarnated motor carriers are companies shut down by the FMCSA for proven histories of unsafe operations that assume a new business name and apply for new motor carrier registration.

The OIG also expressed concerns that economic impacts of the pandemic may affect state and local funding for surface transportation safety programs. The economic downturn that has accompanied the pandemic has reduced levels of tax revenues for state and local governments.

The FMCSA also has three open OIG recommendations issued in 2018 and 2019. The OIG concluded on January 31, 2018, that the FMCSA lacks accurate industrywide data on driver detention. Most industry stakeholders measure only time spent at a shipper’s or receiver’s facility beyond the limit established in shipping contracts, and available electronic data cannot readily discern detention time from legitimate loading and unloading tasks, according to the OIG. Driver detention remains a top industry concern for both drivers and motor carriers.

The FMCSA needs to improve its plans for collecting data on driver detention, the inspector general said.

The FMCSA was instructed under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015 (FAST Act) to commission a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study of the methodology and data the agency uses to identify carriers that are not fit to operate commercial motor vehicles. The FAST Act also directed the FMCSA to develop a corrective action plan in response to the NAS’s findings.

The OIG found on September 25, 2019, that the FMCSA’s corrective action plan lacks implementation details for improving transparency and its assessment of carrier safety rankings. The OIG recommended that the agency take the following steps:

  • Provide cost estimates for staffing, enforcement, and data collection, as well as benchmarks for completion of the corrective action plan.
  • Provide details about potential programmatic reforms, revisions to its regulations, or proposals for legislation.
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