Nebraska senator says she plans reforms of FMCSA

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Updated Mar 10, 2015
From left: Committee Chair Sen. Deb Fischer, ranking member Sewn. Cory Booker and Sen. Bill Nelson

Saying it has ignored Congress, the Government Accountability Office and members of the trucking industry, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska) Wednesday leveled some harsh criticism at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and called for reforming the agency.

Her remarks came during and after a hearing on Capitol Hill of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security, which she chairs.

Specifically, Fischer criticized FMCSA’s handling of the 34-hour restart rule and the posting of Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) scores in public view on its website.

See a video of the complete hearing.

The senior senator from Nebraska plans to introduce reform legislation to make FMCSA more inclusive of Congress and industry stakeholders and increase its transparency. Fischer also said she will author legislation to require the agency to conduct more robust and comprehensive cost benefit analyses of proposed regulations.

In her opening remarks, Fischer said, “Some of the FMCSA’s actions over the past years challenge our shared goal of enhancing safety.

“For example, the FMCSA issued the final 34-hour restart rule in 2013 with complete disregard for congressionally mandated requirements for the study of the rule’s impact. When the study was eventually issued several months late, the sample size was not representative of this diverse industry. In addition, serious concerns were raised about the rule’s perverse impact on safety, because in effect it pushed drivers onto the roads during workers’ students’ and families’ morning commutes.

Sen. Deb Fischer

“In 2014, the GAO investigated the methodology behind FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) program. Inaccurate CSA scores publicly available online have cost companies contracts and raised insurance rates. All of this has occurred without a clear correlation to increasing highway safety.

“When confronted with these findings, FMCSA completely disregarded GAO’s recommendations to address flaws in FMCSA’s implementation; major stakeholders, including law enforcement, requested that FMCSA remove CSA scores from public view.”

“Congress must reform the agency to ensure higher levels of trust, collaboration and ultimately more effective regulations to keep our nation’s roads safe,” said Fischer.

The ranking member of the subcommittee is Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who mentioned how the high profile accident involving comedian Tracy Morgan in June of 2014 took place in his state and brought truck safety into the national headlines. He added that nearly 4,000 people die in truck crashes each year and more than 100,000 more are injured.

“That is simply unacceptable to every American,” said Booker. “From 2009 to 2012 truck crash injuries increased by 40 percent and fatalities increased 16 percent. This is absolutely unacceptable. This cannot simply be the cost of doing business.”

Testifying at Wednesday’s hearing were (from left) FMCSA’s Scott Darling; Joseph Comé of the Department of Transportation; Susan Fleming of the GAO and Christopher Hart of the National Traffic Safety Board

He said there are common sense steps that can be taken to make highways safer.

“There is no place on our roads for tired truckers,” added Booker, who said his concerns also include longer and heavier trucks, minimum insurance amounts and driver pay.

During the hearing Fischer asked Scott Darling, acting administrator of the FMCSA, about issues raised concerning the data used in the Safety Measurement System (SMS) and changes the agency planned to make.

“The information provided in the SMS data is good data,” said Darling. “It’s the data we use to prioritize our interventions. It’s the data used by the public to make decisions every day. It’s data that I have also heard from carriers that they use to improve their performance.”

He said FMCSA has a continuous improvement team in place working with all stakeholders.

“It takes time to make sure we have a system that works, and we believe we have a system that works today,” said Darling.

In response to a question from Fischer about what reforms FMCSA is considering, Darling said the agency is in the process of looking at different changes, but “we are not at a place today to identify changes. We have some changes we will be implementing by the end of the year but we are working through a process.”

When asked by Fischer if he had any specific changes to discuss at the hearing, Darling said he did not. Afterwards, Darling reportedly told Fischer he would get some specific details to her.

Also testifying Wednesday were:

  • Joseph Comé, the Department of Transportation’s deputy principal assistant inspector general for auditing and evaluation
  • Susan Fleming, director of infrastructure issues for the GAO
  • Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Traffic Safety Board

Thursday, a key industry organization added some criticism of its own.

“Yesterday, the flaws in CSA were again highlighted and again the agency insisted it will do nothing to correct them,” said ATA President & CEO Bill Graves, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations. “FMCSA should not just hear the concerns expressed by Senator Fischer and the GAO, but address them with real action.”