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FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro says goodbyes, maintains defense of HOS, respect for drivers

Outgoing FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro shows a license plate from Maryland given to her during a reception in her honor at the Department of Transportation Thursday afternoon. Ferro is a resident of Maryland. (Courtesy: FMCSA)

By DOROTHY COX and LYNDON FINNEY
The Trucker Staff

8/14/2014

FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro, whose legacy to trucking and truck drivers during her five-year tenure has included such controversial regulations as mandated electronic logs (ELDs), CSA and the much criticized 34-hour restart portion of Hours of Service, said her goodbyes to trucking media Thursday with the same resoluteness and poise she has maintained since being confirmed in November of 2009.

She also put to rest rumors that a call for her ouster by the small business truckers’ lobby had nothing to do with her decision to take a job as president and CEO of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators in the coming weeks.

Ironically, Ferro is most proud of some of the things she has been most soundly criticized for:

As she has continued to do, Ferro maintained her defense of the current Hours of Service, lamenting that in the money-driven supply chain, small business owners are often like a David against Goliath and “always bump up against [regulatory] constraints.”

The latest HOS, especially the restart provision with its 168 hours in seven days portion, created a firestorm of controversy when first introduced. In its wake, Ferro butted heads with national lawmakers, truck lobbying groups and drivers themselves, who testified before Congress that the HOS made them more fatigued not less, and gave them less flexibility to get their mandated rest.

Truckers took Ferro to task for going on a two-day ride-along with a driver, saying that was hardly a taste of what over-the-road hauling is really like. Ferro said it was one of her proudest moments and helped reinforce her conviction as to the “pressure” truck drivers are under and the fact that “the safety dynamic is left up to them.” She said it reinforced her belief that the majority of truck drivers are professionals, good at what they do and who “want good safety outcomes.”

She also said she had enjoyed her conversations with drivers at such venues as safety talks at the Mid-America Trucking Show and the HOS listening sessions, although many drivers have said that the HOS rules show she didn’t listen at all.

And Ferro touted CSA, calling it “a game changer” which “put safety in the boardroom” and gave safety management a place at the table.

CSA is still being criticized by trucking interests, most recently in a study by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) as being far from uniform, as intended, because of the different priorities and violation issuance rates that very widely from state to state.

And although Ferro said she was proud of language against coercion in MAP 21, and as part of the ELD rulemaking, it was no “silver bullet.” She tempered that statement by adding that in the current economic climate where there is more demand than supply, greater driver compensation should be the result and that shippers which are abusive to drivers “should be shut out if they don’t pay detention.”

She also touted the language on driver compensation in the Grow America Act,  the multi-year surface transportation reauthorization proposal that the Department of Transportation presented to Congress in April, which says the DOT Secretary may “by regulation” require carriers to “separately compensate” drivers for any on-duty, not-driving work they do and pay them at least minimum wage for the time. However, there is no rulemaking on compensation and FMCSA spokesmen have declined to say if or when there might be.

Her greatest frustration, she said, was that her agency serves 300 million people and to ensure their safety on the road while her “conversations” and interactions are only with about 10 million. “How do you take conversations with the 10 million and apply them to 300 million,” she asked, no doubt alluding to rules and regulations that can never be the one size that fits all.

Ferro said she didn’t take criticism personally, but understood “it’s not about me, it’s about the position, the role I represent,” adding that in her job as Maryland’s motor vehicle administrator (1997-2003) she told her employees, “It’s not about you, it’s about what you’re representing. … It’s important for you to listen, to demonstrate responsiveness, to identify problems, to see how to improve and more forward.”

And Ferro said she wouldn’t have done anything different in her tenure, although she said the order of the rulemakings that have come out during her time as administrator have had everything to do with the Obama administration’s order of things, not hers personally.

As to the nearly if not impossible job of FMCSA enforcing the mammoth number of regulations it either has already promulgated or has in the hopper, Ferro side-stepped the answer, saying that would be up to her replacement.

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

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