When Congress mandated that DOT establish the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in 1999 to oversee truck and bus safety, the objective was to offer fleets a single point for all safety matters. With one agency devoted solely to carrier safety, DOT had hoped to concentrate its efforts and prevent redundancy.
Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. While progress has been heartening, rivalry, waste and duplication still exist among FMCSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which focuses on cars, and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which still maintains overall control over roads. The dream of a single agency devoted to truck safety has remained elusive.
Now carriers will have to contend with yet another government attempt to centralize carrier safety and security in the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) formed as part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act signed by President Bush last November. TSA's immediate mandate is to secure the nation's airports, but the agency is expected to turn its attention to surface transportation after that.
In the meantime, other government agencies have eagerly carved out security niches and captured their share of the billions of dollars for homeland defense now up for grabs.
Several events in recent weeks bear this out. The Food and Drug Administration has recently issued recommendations to food transporters about new safety measures, including limiting driver access to warehouses, having them show IDs and sign in and out of processing facilities. The agency is also suggesting a new system of tamper-proof seals on trucks and criminal checks for drivers who haul food and drugs.
The U.S. Customs Service is proposing new standards for cargo handling, including limited access by some truck drivers to certain high security ports. The Nuclear Regulatory Agency is discussing new protocols for trucks that haul nuclear materials. The U.S. Border Patrol has also chimed in, suggesting security requirements for Mexican drivers who will be allowed to travel throughout the U.S. under NAFTA.
The U.S. Coast Guard is getting into the act by requiring truck drivers to show their CDLs before entering West Coast ports. Some ports are also issuing their own IDs. The Defense Dept. is reviewing its rules for trucks entering military facilities and hauling cargo.
“Their motives are genuine,” notes one transportation lobbyist, “but there's also an opportunity for agencies to expand their territory and capture extra funding,”
FMCSA will issue its own rules soon on a plan to ensure that hazmat drivers are not terrorists, as detailed by the USA Patriot Act, requiring the Attorney General to run background checks on drivers with a hazmat endorsement and report their findings to the DOT, which will then inform states who handle the licensing.
Tired of waiting for the federal government to act, some states have decided to institute their own security plans. Pennsylvania's governor has directed the state's DOT to conduct background investigations on drivers before issuing them CDLs with hazmat endorsements.
“Everyone wants a piece of the trucking security action,” says an official at the American Trucking Assns. “We would prefer that everything be centralized at FMCSA.”
Unfortunately, the situation will get worse. While carriers may hope that TSA will offer one-stop shopping, DOT Secretary Mineta has said that the agency will not go beyond airports in direct handling of security, nor can it interfere with other federal agencies or local and state jurisdictions. All industries, including trucking, already work with multiple, often overlapping, government agency regulations. It looks like they'll have to deal with even more.