The Senate Appropriations Committee’s Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill for 2009 contains a lengthy report that severely criticizes the performance of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

“The agency is responsible for developing, implementing and enforcing regulations designed to ensure that only qualified drivers and safe vehicles are operating on the Nation’s highways,” the report stated. “Unfortunately, FMCSA has shown a pattern of undermining its safety mission by proposing weak regulations and failing to provide adequate oversight and enforcement of existing regulations. FMCSA’s performance has been criticized not only by the Committee, but by the DOT Inspector General [IG], the Government Accountability Office [GAO], the National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB], as well as the Courts.”

The Committee recommended $541,000,000 in funding for FMCSA, which was equal to the president’s budget request, and approximately $11.3 million more than the fiscal year 2008 enacted level.

The report accuses FMCSA of not moving quickly enough to adopt the Committee’s past recommendations, stating “the agency’s weak regulatory and enforcement efforts undermine its ability to promote safety.”

“The rules that FMCSA has proposed fail to achieve maximum safety benefits, and in some instances may undermine safety,” the report stated. “Appropriate hours-of-service standards are important to addressing a major factor identified in many crashes--fatigue. In addition, clear and consistent regulations are critical to the industry, so that they can manage operations in a compliant way; FMCSA has not provided that consistency.”

According to the report, GAO visited 24 drug test collection sites, finding 22 not to be in full compliance with protocols covering sample collection, and drivers testing positive for drugs with one carrier have often moved to another without the positive test being identified.

In addition, a 2001 NTSB recommendation to FMCSA that it take action to prevent medically unqualified drivers from operating commercial vehicles has not been satisfied, and it remains classified as “open-unacceptable” by NTSB.

The Committee also gave poor marks to FMCSA on its ability to conduct compliance reviews of potentially high-risk carriers and for its enforcement of DOT’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“The Committee is again voicing is immense frustration at the FMCSA’s unwillingness to enforce the Department of Transportation’s own Americans with Disabilities Act regulations for over-the-road curbside operators,” the report continued. “FMCSA is the sole agency responsible for granting or revoking operating authority to curbside operators. Yet FMCSA continues to insist that it lacks the authority to revoke or deny operating authority based on an operator’s inability or unwillingness to meet DOT’s ADA regulations.”

The Committee’s report on the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) was not as negative as its FMCSA report, although it criticized FHA for its handling of the Highway Trust Fund. The Committee recommended a total budget of $41,199,970,178 for FHA, $1,801,241,952 more than the budget request and $983,918,819 more than the fiscal year 2008 enacted level.

“The Committee has been disappointed by the tepid leadership provided by the administration in finding a solution for the Highway Trust Fund,” the report stated. “After more than a year of raising the alarm about the trust fund without bringing forth any concrete solutions, the Department requested special authority to bolster the balances of the highway account by transferring balances from the transit account. The Department offered assurances that those balances would be repaid to the transit account, but provided no detail on how or when it would make this repayment. In fact, according to analysis provided by the Congressional Budget Office, the budget request submitted by the administration would never allow balances to accumulate in the highway account so that the transit account could be repaid.”

“Because the Committee is unwilling to put the Federal highway program at risk, the bill includes a provision that would transfer $8,017,355,427 in balances to the Highway Trust Fund,” the report continued. “This transfer corresponds to the amount of balances that were taken out of the Highway Trust Fund after fiscal year 1998, a time when the pervading wisdom was that the Highway Trust Fund had ‘too many’ balances and would not be able to spend them all.”

The Committee also provided an additional $1,000,000,000 for bridge replacement and repair, following last year’s collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis.

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