A cross-section of motor freight and passenger interests that have spent approximately seven years fighting the Department of Transportation's controversial plan to grade the operational safety of motor carriers wants to make sure the issue gets on new Transport Secretary Elaine L. Chao's radar.
Sixty-one organizations sent a letter, dated last Wednesday but released Friday, that calls on Chao to rescind a January 2016 rulemaking by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) a DOT sub-agency that oversees truck and bus safety, to change the methodology for grading a carrier's fitness under the "Compliance, Safety, and Accountability" (CSA) program, rolled out in 2010 to grade carriers based on roadside performance data.
Under the original program, each carrier would be measured by seven performance categories and assigned scores through a "Safety Measurement System," or SMS. The FMCSA's January 2016 proposal would change the current three-tier grading model—satisfactory, conditional, and unsatisfactory—to create just an "unfit" rating. Ratings would be arrived at by analyzing five of seven performance criteria. FMCSA would either then conduct a full investigation of selected carriers, or use a combination of on-road safety data and investigative information to come up with a fitness determination. The agency said at the time that its proposal streamlines a cumbersome process, and enables it to cast as wide an oversight net as possible with limited manpower and resources. There are about 530,000 registered motor carriers in the U.S. that fall under FMCSA's purview.
The coalition voiced concerns that have dogged the CSA process all along: That the methodology to determine a carrier's fitness to operate relies upon flawed data and scores, and can't be trusted to provide a fair and accurate accounting of who's operating safely and who isn't. Opponents of the proposal also said the agency thwarted the will of Congress, which in its five-year federal transport spending law signed in December 2015 directed the agency to hold off on any CSA-related rulemakings until the National Academy of Sciences completed a 22-month study into the program's efficacy. The study is expected to be finished in June, according to the letter's signatories.
The groups said that it's impractical for the government to build a new program "upon a flawed system which is currently undergoing Congressionally mandated review and reform and is likely to change. While we support the goal of an easily understandable, rational safety fitness determination system, this proposal is built on a flawed foundation."
The proposal, which received a slew of comments last spring, has essentially sat in administrative limbo for more than a year. Its critics are hoping that it will be axed under the Trump administration's plan to review and potentially scrap laws viewed as anti-business and without significant benefits to the public.