WASHINGTON — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) got a step closer to having a new administrator Tuesday as the U.S. Senate Committee in Commerce, Science and Transportation held a nomination hearing for Raymond Martinez, President Donald Trump’s pick to head the agency.
Martinez shared the hot seat with three other nominees: former U.S. Rep. Leon Westmoreland (R- Ga.), nominated to the Amtrak board of directors; Diana Furchtgott-Roth, nominated to be the Transportation Department’s assistant secretary for research and technology; and Bruce Landsberg, to the National Transportation Safety Board. The four fielded questions from committee members for a little over two hours in a hearing that was shown live at commerce.senate.gov.
Martinez, whose nomination was announced in late September, is chairman and chief administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and a member of the New Jersey State Planning Commission. He has also served in New York as commissioner of motor vehicles and as chairman of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee as well as deputy chief of staff and special counsel to the New York State attorney general. At the national level, Martinez has held positions in the Department of State and Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In his opening remarks at the hearing, Martinez stressed that throughout his career he has made it a point to forge relationships with thought leaders and research institutions to get a wide variety of data and insights.
“I have found this open dialogue and cross pollination of ideas was essential to problem-solving,” Martinez said. “If confirmed as FMCSA administrator, I would continue to pursue data-driven policies.”
Martinez kept coming back to that theme as he had a fairly easy time of it during the questioning. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., posed the closest thing to an adversarial question when he commented that while Martinez has a great deal of experience in transportation, it has been primarily in noncommercial transportation. He asked Martinez if the experience has prepared him for this position.
Martinez replied his career has given him a broad view of the traffic safety landscape, including commercial licensing and vehicle inspections.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., cited concerns from members of his constituency over the impending electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, scheduled to go into effect December 18, and whether Martinez, in light of the $2 billion it’s been estimated it will cost to implement the mandate, believes a delay is in order.
Martinez replied that while he is committed to upholding regulations, “I believe regulatory reform should be an ongoing process. If confirmed, I would look forward to working with all industry stakeholders. I have heard that this rule could cause serious hardship to some small, independent truckers. Particularly those working in the agricultural sector.”
He would want to hear those people out, he said. After all, “the goal is not to cripple commerce. The goal is to make our roadways safer.”
Martinez reiterated the point several times that if confirmed, he would keep an open-door policy when it comes both to people and data, and to look at information “through the lens of safety.”
Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, from Martinez’ home state of New Jersey, peppered Martinez with what he referred to as a “speed round” of questions, again hitting on ELDs, as well as the importance of addressing driver fatigue and whether he supports requiring automatic braking systems and speed limiters on trucks.
“I believe we should look at the cost benefit analysis on that, but I’m willing to look at all opinions,” Martinez said.
Sen. John Thune, R-S. N.D., picked up right after Booker and asked about the effort under way to improve the system being used to establish CSA scores.
Martinez replied that he is in favor of improving the rating system for carriers and identifying high-risk carriers. As with every issue, he emphasized the importance of collecting and utilizing data to determine whether regulations are truly working.
The FMCSA only has 1,100 employees, Martinez pointed out. “It’s critical for the efficient use of our resources to use good data and to use good models and approaches,” he said, adding that with something like CSA scores, it is essential the data collected is accurate, reliable and fair.
“If the data is unreliable, we lose credibility with our stakeholders, we lose credibility with the entities that we regulate, and we do a disservice to the public,” he said.
The committee has until the end of the day Thursday to submit questions in writing, to which Martinez has until the end of the day Monday to respond.