Federal Update
Falling short of the goal line
Low participation, oversight threaten success of cross-border program

By Jami Jones, managing editor

An interim report recently issued by DOT’s Office of Inspector General criticizes oversight of the long-haul, cross-border trucking pilot program with Mexico – even with the low participation in the program.

At the time the report was released in mid-August, only four motor carriers were participating in the pilot program – with only one motor carrier venturing past the border states. That threatens the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s goal of providing a statistically representative sample of Mexico’s motor carrier population.

However, even with such minimal participation, the inspector general found five areas where the agency lacked oversight mechanisms – including on drug and alcohol testing – to ensure full compliance with the pilot program.

“The IG report pretty much supports what we’ve contended all along. Unfortunately, the agency is willing to accept a double standard. And we’re not,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said. “U.S. motor carriers must meet high regulatory standards. Nothing less should be acceptable for Mexican motor carriers.”

English proficiency testing
The Aug. 16 report issued by the inspector general stated that agency personnel did not comply with new English language proficiency requirements for testing drivers on road signs during two of the three pre-authority safety audits (PASAs) observed by the inspector general’s office.

The tests are to be given and responded to in English. In the two PASAs in question, the drivers were permitted to answer in Spanish. The testing requires drivers to be presented four signs from a list of 21 road signs. In addition to recommending that testers stick with the English response criteria, the inspector general recommended expanding the test to include all 21 of the signs on the list.

The agency agreed with the recommendation to expand the testing.

Quality assurances
Two of three PASA results reviewed as part of the audit showed that quality assurance personnel within FMCSA approved two PASA results before verifying that driver’s license testing of 18 drivers had been completed.

According to the interim audit, the agency also made errors in determining whether one potential carrier complied with the drug and alcohol testing regulations.

“FMCSA’s PASA auditor did not follow FMCSA’s procedures for assessing one potential carrier’s compliance with drug and alcohol testing program requirements,” the audit states.

“Although we identified errors for only one of the three carriers we reviewed, the auditor did not verify the enrollment of the carrier’s 16 potential drivers in a random drug and alcohol testing pool. Additionally, the auditor did not investigate why the carrier’s drug and alcohol statistical summary report contained eight incomplete random drug tests and two incomplete random alcohol tests.”

The inspector general recommended the agency revise its quality assurance procedures for PASAs to ensure the accuracy of driver testing, drug and alcohol reports as well as the testing pools before approving the audits. The agency disagreed with the recommendation to alter its policies, but rather opted to ensure that current procedures are followed.

“The FMCSA auditor did not strictly follow the established protocol for the drug and alcohol program,” Deputy Administrator of Enforcement and Compliance William Quade stated in a response letter to the inspector general.

“FMCSA considers this instance a single noncompliance with existing policy by staff, and not evidence of the need to revise its quality assurance procedures for PASAs. Therefore, while FMCSA will re-emphasize the procedures in the refresher training scheduled for August 2012, it considers the procedures in place to be adequate.”

FMCSA is funding the use of electronic on-board recorders to track the pilot program participants, but the inspector general found that the agency did not have any plan for periodic reviews of the data.

While the inspector general recommended a policy revision on the data review, the agency did not agree with that recommendation either, opting instead to emphasize current policies and procedures with personnel.

“The Agency acknowledges that two operational reports reviewed by OIG staff during this engagement were subsequently updated. The FMCSA discovered the errors, and the reports were revised accordingly. Further, the revisions made to the reports did not have an adverse impact on the Agency’s oversight of the pilot program,” Quade’s letter to the inspector general stated.

And, lastly, the audit found that the agency still did not have a mechanism for detecting cabotage violations.

The inspector general noted that cabotage enforcement will require an electronic monitoring contract. The agency agreed.

Although the agency’s contract with Teletrac includes a clause for the contractor to develop an automated means of detecting cabatoge, FMCSA has not exercised this automated support option because participation in the program remains low and this level of support is not needed at this time, according to the agency’s official response to the audit.

Changes being made
“FMCSA is effectively working through its rigorous safety vetting process to ensure that only safe, qualified Mexican carriers are approved for participation in the United States-Mexico cross-border pilot program,” a prepared release from the agency stated.

“Safety is our first priority, and we will continue to look for ways to improve our program, which preserves safety and spurs economic growth through sufficient participation from safe Mexican carriers. The agency has already incorporated several important safety recommendations from the Office of the Inspector General. “ LL