LOUISVILLE, Ky. — New FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro has spent the first four months in office out of the limelight, choosing to stay in the kitchen as it were. “With an agency with as large a mission and as large a territory to cover, the initial challenge is to just get a handle on everything we do,” Ferro said in a brief interview during the Mid-America Trucking Show here last week. “I am still peeling back the onion, but I can tell you to a person in our agency, the passion for our mission of saving lives by reducing crashes in commercial vehicles — regardless of when or how or who — across the board and across the nation our employees are committed to that end.”
And, during those four months, Ferro said it had become very clear what the agency’s three core priorities needed to be: “raising the bar to enter the industry, maintaining a high standard to stay in the industry and making sure we’re removing high risk operators.
“Those three priorities apply whether you’re a motor carrier, whether you’re a driver, whether you’re a broker or a service provider like a physician or a drug and alcohol test center whose credentials we use to allow you to get into the industry,” Ferro said.
She said perhaps there could have been more than three priorities, but noted she’s a simple person.
“I’m pretty simple and I like to keep things simple,” she said, “and I know that my team, that is my team employee-wide at FMCSA, understands the framework in which we focus our effort to achieve the mandate, which is our mission, to significantly reduce crashes with commercial vehicles.”
For instance, she said the agency also would put forth an effort to teach drivers appropriate behaviors for the roadway.
Those priorities extend to all segments of the trucking industry, Ferro emphasized.
“The tools we are using to fulfill that framework extends to some of the programs you’ve heard about and are within our existing authority such as our new entrant audit to make sure we’re raising the bar to enter the industry and the vetting program,” she said.
Right now, the administrator said, the vetting program is only for household goods motor carriers to eliminate the opportunity for operators to reincarnate as chameleon carriers seeking to come back in the industry with a new name after being shut down because of an out-of-service rating.
“We will sometime within the next two years expand that capability to any new applicant,” Ferro said. “But in the meantime, new entrant audits are the way we’re capturing them and with 40,000 new entrants, that’s a lot of folks to audit.”
The agency’s commitment to fulfilling its mission has been questioned, especially by some in Congress as evidenced during Ferro’s confirmation hearing last year.
“And that’s a position that had been questioned before I came on board, not about me but about our agency as a whole,” she said. “And I can tell you to a person [they are committed]—and I can say that because I’ve worked very hard to get around our organization throughout the country, not just in Washington with 1,100 employees and more than 800 of them in the field.”
Ferro said she’s also learned of the priorities in the rulemaking arena, also.
“Clearly we have some very immediate priorities on rulemaking with regard to the Hours of Service rule, subject to a schedule determined by a court settlement,” she said. “We have distracted driving initiatives that are well under way, the EOBR rule and the UCR [Unified Carrier Registration] rule. And, we have a foundational shift in our program with the introduction of CSA 2010.
“So collectively between those activities and getting a handle on the organization, getting a sense of who is in the organization, meeting our employees, meeting our customers, meeting our stakeholders, it’s been a very busy four months.”
FMCSA is an agency within the Department of Transportation and is only one of several transportation modals under the leadership of Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.
“Secretary LaHood has a passion for safety and his passion goes beyond safety, it’s about team work,” Ferro said. “He’s very focused on one DOT. So all the modal administrators, whether it’s NHTSA, federal highway, federal transit, federal rail, FAA, we all work together as a team and draw the best from each other, whether it’s a fatigue rule, an equipment rule, a technology rule, so across the board we’re also working at a multi-modal level.”
The interview with Ferro took place only hours after a tractor-trailer crossed the median and slammed head-on into a church van some 75 miles south of here, killing 11, including the trucker.
“It’s [the accident] a heartbreaking reminder of why we do what we do every day and why the safe drivers and the safe motor carriers are so passionate about what they are doing,” she said, “and it makes us passionate to do a better job as federal agents working with our state partners.
“We owe it to all the safe drivers and the good motor carriers and the driving public at large to identify the behaviors and conditions that contribute to this kind of tragedy… .”
Lyndon Finney of The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at firstname.lastname@example.org.