With the departure of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) top administrator, Joseph Clapp, and assistant administrator and chief safety officer Julie Cirillo, and the uncertainty over which pieces of FMCSA will be taken over by the new Dept. of Homeland Security, the agency is putting some current issues on hold.

It would be too strong a statement to say FMCSA was paralyzed, but an official described its status as “holding tight.”

We're waiting to see what happens with TSA (Transportation Security Administration),” the official noted. The newly formed TSA will come under the aegis of the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS), but which programs will be included won't be known until the organization chart for the newest cabinet department is drawn. Although the bill establishing DHS is moving quickly through Congress, it will be several months after passage before budgets are approved and staff hired or ‘hired over’ from other agencies such as FMCSA. Observers say it could take months to fully reestablish programs from other agencies at DHS and several years before the department is running effectively.

For example, the USA Patriot Act passed last October directed DOT to come up with regulations concerning background checks of hazmat drivers. After more than a year, FMCSA as the lead agency has shown little movement, perhaps because it was uncertain whether or not TSA would take over the task. “Nobody knows if it will shift to TSA,” says an FMCSA official. “That's why we're not doing much on it.”

Other initiatives such as background checks or even federal licensing for all drivers is something that FMCSA has been loathe to take on because of states' autonomy over drivers, but it could come to the front burner under DHS. What identification requirements will be needed for drivers entering ports, rail yards and government installations may also shift to DHS instead of on a state-by-state authority as now.

Clapp has promised to send his proposal for hours-of-service reform to the Office of Management and Budget before he leaves office. If he accomplishes this, it can be added to Clapp's his list of accomplishments since he took office 15 months ago. Arguably the most controversial issue FMCSA has ever undertaken, a proposal for change in HOS rules could be made public soon.

Clapp can also take pride in spearheading FMCSA's regulations on stricter CDL requirements, especially closing loopholes for hardship exemptions. Some critics, however, charge that FMCSA was forced to take action because of the egregious and illegal activities of so-called ‘CDL mills’ instead of being proactive. Clapp also was instrumental in getting the border open for NAFTA before his watch ended but, again, detractors say that it took Congressional action to ensure that more stringent safety measures were in place first.

The frontrunner as Clapp's replacement is Annette M. Sandberg — named FMCSA deputy administrator on the same day that Clapp announced his departure — who has served as deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since February. She retired as Chief of the Washington State Patrol a year earlier and spent more than 17 years in law enforcement before becoming the state's first woman patrol chief. A replacement for Cirillo is more uncertain, although a short list has been written and includes both industry and trucking association names.