Federal Update
A tale of two applications (or standards)
FMCSA's handling of Baja Express' application blunder leaves more questions than answers on the agency's handling of the cross-border pilot program

By Jami Jones, managing editor

Less than seven months into the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s cross-border pilot program with Mexico, the agency’s actions are establishing a pattern that points to a double standard.

The most recent set of red flags flew as a result of the agency’s dealings with cross-border applicant Baja Express.

Initially, the motor carrier’s application and pre-authority safety audit (PASA) answers were submitted to FMCSA without disclosing a relationship to other motor carriers.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed comments that pointed out a clear affiliation with a current border zone motor carrier. The Association also noted that the lack of detail occurred on an application that outlines the criminal violations of perjury for willful misstatement or omission of material facts.

FMCSA’s William Quade, associate administrator of enforcement and program delivery, directly responded to OOIDA’s comments in a letter to OOIDA President Jim Johnston. His letter stated that the application posted to the website was “incomplete.”

“Baja Express had not indicated this relationship on its original application,” Quade wrote. “Prior to conducting the PASA on Baja Express, FMCSA learned of the relationship between Baja Express and Carlos Tirado Valdez. Baja Express updated its application to correct this error, and to reflect the relationship with this other commercial zone carrier.”

Quade also dismissed OOIDA’s comments on the Baja Express pre-authority safety audit application, saying they were “outside the scope” of the comments sought.

Those assertions raised more questions than they answered. OOIDA fired a letter back to the agency in early April shortly after FMCSA proceeded with granting Baja Express authority to operate in the pilot program.

“Your letter … did not address the seriousness of Baja Express’ omissions of material facts on the application,” Johnston wrote. “No part of your letter indicates that Baja Express’ incomplete application had any negative consequences on FMCSA’s approval of Baja Express’ operating authority or its acceptance into the Mexican truck pilot program.”

The Association noted that the “revised” application disclosing an affiliation with a border zone motor carrier was dated the same date as the original “incomplete” application – even though Quade’s letter indicated the oversight was found at some point after the application was submitted and before the pre-authority safety audit was conducted.

The Association is also challenging whether the now-complete application is genuine.

First, the new application is dated the same day as the original application. Also, it is not signed by an individual as required.

“Does an application with the applicant’s signature exist? If not, has the agency acted upon an unsigned application for operating authority? Or is it possible that someone at the agency itself completed this form for the motor carrier?” Johnston asked in his letter.

Given the suspect nature of the application, the agency’s acceptance of the application, and subsequent approval of authority for Baja Express to operate long-haul in the U.S., Johnston stated the Association sees a pattern evolving.

“OOIDA is concerned that FMCSA’s actions to accept Baja Express’ application follow a pattern by which the agency has chosen to permit less than full compliance with U.S. rules in order to promote its pilot program, rather than require such carriers to meet the same standards required of U.S. motor carriers,” Johnston stated in closing. LL