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FMCSA updates Congress on preventing ‘chameleon’ carriers

If funding permits, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration could begin automatically screen against “chameleon” carriers in 2015.

The agency reported on implementing risk-based vetting of carriers to Congress in June. Chameleon or reincarnated carriers are companies that apply for authority under a new identity to disguise a former identity and evade FMCSA detection.

Last year, the agency began developing specifications for modifying its information technology systems for expanded vetting. Congress had asked for changes consistent with a Government Accountability Office study that recommended developing a risk-based process. 

The FMCSA collaborated with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to develop the Application Review and Chameleon Investigation. Over time, it will run a validation study of the model, which uses data from both agencies and Dun & Bradstreet, a commercial database.

The prototype identifies carriers with the highest likelihood to reincarnate. This potential is based on having more than one factor, such as having a record of a crash that resulted in death or an unfit review.

The agency is developing the model in conjunction with designing the Unified Registration System, which will replace current systems used to track carriers. If funding permits, the FMCSA anticipates new entrant applications could be automatically screened and assigned a risk factor in the URS in 2015.

Additional legal resources will be needed to review and support operating authority legal determinations and appeals, the agency stated.

The GAO’s 2012 report indicated the volume of new applicants had resulted in the agency focusing its vetting program on new applicants from for-hire passenger and household goods carriers. These categories represent only 2 percent of all applications, but pose the highest safety and consumer protection concerns. Also, agency resources are insufficient to vet all new carriers, FMCSA said.

GAO research had indicated the number of carriers with chameleon attributes increased from 759 in 2005 to 1,136 in 2010. The researchers also found 18 percent of the applicants with chameleon attributes were involved in severe crashes compared with 6 percent of new applicants without chameleon attributes.

In 2012, Congress allocated an extra $3.5 million for the FMCSA to develop the new system and to hire up to three additional staff.

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