An attempt to legislate an end-run around the House and Senate agreement on a mandate for electronic onboard recorders(EOBRs)—also known as electronic logging devices-- appears to be much ado about nothing.

Language calling for an EOBR mandate was contained within the latest highway reauthorization bill—dubbed the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP 21)— which passed both the House and Senate last Friday, June 29. The wording regarding EOBRs in the new highway bill stated that all motor carriers that must file a record of duty status (RODS) will be required to do so with an electronic logging device. 

On the very same day that MAP 21 was passed (and by a wide margin), Rep. Jeff Landry(R-LA) and Rep. Nick Rahall(D-WV) launched an attempt to strip away federal funding for the EOBR mandate in the highway bill by co-introducing an amendment to the House version (H.R. 5972) of the FY2013 appropriations bill for the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) and other agencies. H.R. 5972 remains before the House and may not even be taken up by the Senate until after the November elections.

The Landry-Rahall amendment stated that “none of the funds made available by this act [meaning not MAP 21 but the DOT funding bill] may be used to promulgate or implement any regulations that would mandate global positioning system (GPS) tracking, electronic on-board recording devices or event recorders in passenger or commercial motor vehicles.”

Were it even to wind up as part of the final DOT appropriations bill (which is doubtful as it only passed the House via a weakly attended voice vote), the amendment to H.R. 5972 would amount to pointless political grandstanding because the EOBR mandate will not need to be funded by the DOT funding measure.

To be perfectly clear, nothing in the Landry-Rahall amendment would prevent the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) from going ahead with its on-going EOBR rulemaking.

According to FMCSA’s calendar, it will issue a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SNPRM) early next year, which will trigger a public-comment period and, ultimately, lead to release of the final EOBR rule.

That’s the expectation of both David Heller, director of safety & policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn., and Tom Cuthbertson, vice president of regulatory compliance for Xata, a provider of EOBR solutions.

Cuthbertson told FleetOwner that the EOBR mandate does not require any funding from the Appropriations Committee and that funding for the rule can be directed from any of several sources, therefore “the amendment will have no effect on the EOBR language or its implementation.”

“Regardless of the amendment,” Heller told FleetOwner, “FMCSA Is still required to execute and EOBR mandate. It is TCA’s understanding that this attempt to de-fund [the EOBR mandate] is not viable. He also pointed out that once the EOBR rule is finalized, “it will be the carriers that will pay to implement it by adding electronic logging devices to their trucks.”

“FMCSA was already working on an EOBR regulation,” noted Cuthbertson, “so it was not technically ‘mandated’ in the highway bill.”

According to Cuthbertson, right now FMCSA is working to incorporate necessary technical specifications for electronic logging devices into its SNPRM. “FMCSA is moving forward with its EOBR rulemaking and that is a process already funded.”

And, perhaps alluding to how things work  on Capitol Hill, in a statement on the Landry-Rahall amendment, Gov. Bill Graves, president & CEO of the American Trucking Assns. said that while “opponents of honest, fair and efficient enforcement of important safety rules have used this back door to thwart the will of Congress, we fully expect that the language of the conference report [for MAP-21] – agreed to by House and Senate leaders of both parties – will be the final word on the use of electronic logs and that DOT will quickly move to require this important safety technology on all trucks.”

UPDATED (07/06/12):

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA), which has long been a strongly vocal opponent of an EOBR rulemaking, contends that if the Landy-Rahall amendment ultimately becomes law it will indeed stop the EOBR mandate, according to Rod Nofziger, OOIDA’s chief of staff/special assistant to the president.

The “contentions [of Heller and Cuthbertson] that if enacted the Landry Amendment will have no impact on an EOBR rulemaking are simply wrong,” Nofziger told FleetOwner.

“The transportation appropriations bill funds all DOT functions, personnel, equipment, etc,” he continued. “If that [Landry-Rahall] amendment is in the final appropriations bill, FMCSA will be prohibited from using any resources to mandate EOBRs during the fiscal year [2013].”

The federal government’s 2013 fiscal year runs from October 2012 to September 2013.