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Lawmaker calls for extensive review of Mexico truck program

Rep. Duncan Hunter says a report by the DOT’s inspector general leaves him concerned that there is a lack of oversight of the pilot project by the FMCSA that poses a safety risk on American roads. (The Trucker file photo)

By Lyndon Finney
The Trucker Staff

2/22/2013

WASHINGTON — A member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has asked the panel’s chairman to initiate an extensive review of the U.S.-Mexico Pilot Program on NAFTA Long-Haul Trucking Provisions.

“While I acknowledge the important goals of the program, the results to this point have been less than desirable and should be cause for a more thorough review,” Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., wrote in a letter to committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Penn.

Hunter cited an August 2012 report by the Department of Transportation Inspector General that revealed in the first 14 months of the program’s inception, only 17 trucks and 20 drivers had been approved to operate on American roads.

“Not only does this small number highlight the lack of enthusiasm for the program among Mexican based carriers, but likely means that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will need to extend the program’s three-year time limit (set to expire in October 2014) in order to obtain accurate data,” he wrote. “Effectively, they will have created a long-term policy without the structure, scrutiny and oversight necessarily required for highway regulation.”

Since the report, five trucks and three drivers had been added to the program.

Ten Mexico-domiciled carriers have been granted authority to participate in the pilot.

The FMCSA said when the program began that it would require 46 carriers and 4,100 inspection to accurately gauge the success of the project.

Through Jan. 27, the latest date for which data is available, there have been 553 inspections performed.

Despite the lack of carriers and the low number of inspections performed, the FMCSA has repeatedly stated confidence it could successfully complete the project.

“One of my primary concerns is that a lack of proper oversight poses a safety risk on American roads,” Hunter wrote. “The DOT report illustrates the FMCSA’s own inability to clearly outline the application review process. Without clear guidelines, I question the agency’s ability to ensure all carriers meet the safety standards we have worked so hard to rigorously implement on our nation’s highways. My concern is further supported by the fact that the report identified five problem areas where the FMCSA failed to enact proper oversight measures to ensure safety compliance by the Mexican-based companies.”

Duncan also cited a concern about the financial implications of the program.

“The program has been authorized to spend federal tax dollars from the Highway Trust Fund on electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) which will be, and have been, installed in the cabs of many of the Mexican based operators,” Hunter wrote. “At a time when nearly all federal agencies are reviewing fiscal outlays, it is surprising that the DOT deems it appropriate to take funds designated for the improvement of our nation's roadways and spend those dollars on technology upgrades for foreign operators.”

The FMCSA said when the program began that the EOBRs were vital to accurately gauge drivers’ Hours of Service.

“All of these factors combined lead me to conclude that the U.S.-Mexico Cross Border Trucking Pilot Program deserves an intensive review by the pertinent Congressional committees,” Hunter wrote. “It is my hope that we can work with officials at FMCSA and other agencies to eliminate unsafe conditions on the road, maximize American competitiveness and create opportunity for the free trade and exchange of goods.”

Shuster’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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