Clapp named to FMCSA post

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President Bush last month announced Joseph M. Clapp as his choice to lead the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Clapp retired in 1995 as chairman and CEO of Roadway Services Inc. after almost 30 years with the company and its Roadway Express unit. Although paperwork and other hurdles slowed the announcement, the trucking community has expected his nomination to the post for several months (CCJ, June 2001).

If confirmed by the Senate, Clapp, 66, would be the first administrator of FMCSA, which was established on Jan. 1, 2000. For most of the time since, Chief Safety Officer Julie Cirillo has headed the agency in an acting capacity, although Clyde Hart headed FMCSA in an acting capacity during the waning months of the Clinton administration.

Trucking interests praised the selection. “As a respected transportation professional and life-long highway safety advocate, Mr. Clapp represents the best choice to fill this vital position,” says William Canary, the American Trucking Associations’ interim president and CEO.
“With his industry experience and highway safety commitment, Mr. Clapp will be a strong leader for the FMCSA,” Canary says. His understanding of the industry “is critical to enacting reforms that can actually deliver on the promise of improved highway safety and economic growth.”

Clapp will have his hands full when he takes office, especially regarding the rewrite of hours-of-service regulations and dealing with the Mexican truckers issue. Cirillo reportedly is recommending a wholesale rethinking of the agency’s current hours-of-service proposal, which could add years to the process. In addition, Clapp must finalize a number of long-overdue rulemakings, some dating back to the 1999 law that created FMCSA and others going back much further.

One of Clapp’s biggest challenges, however, may be living with the fact that some conflicts are impossible to reconcile.

The job needs “somebody who is good at listening to all sides and somebody who knows that he’s not going to make everybody happy no matter what he does,” says former acting administrator Hart, who held the post during the heart of the hours-of-service debate last year. The administrator, Hart says, must have the respect of, and be able to work with, all stakeholders. The job also requires “somebody who has a good eye for talent within the agency so that he can turn over significant initiatives to those people and not have to worry about them.”

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The question is whether Clapp’s long-time involvement in trucking will draw intense opposition from safety activist groups. “If they don’t give him a chance and just attack because of the obvious connection to the industry, I think they’d be making a very, very poor judgment,” says Timothy Lynch, president of the Motor Freight Carrier Association, which represents unionized less-than-truckload carriers. “I think they’ll be surprised to see his commitment to safety, effective safety. I would be very surprised if they were in disagreement with him.” Clapp hired Lynch two decades ago when Clapp ran Roadway’s Washington office.

Clapp’s selection is partly a result of his long experience in Washington, during which he worked closely with DOT Secretary Norman Mineta, then a member of Congress. They both were heavily involved in the process of implementing the 1980 deregulation act.

In the mid 1980s, Clapp moved back to company headquarters in Akron, Ohio, and began building the company into a full transportation operation, with eventually five major regional carriers, a small package operation and a contract logistics arm. The subsidiaries included Viking freight System and Roberts Express, a critical-shipment carrier whose acquisition he would later call the high point in his career.

Clapp retired in 1995 after engineering a major restructuring in the wake of the disastrous 24-day 1994 Teamster strike. He spun off national unionized LTL carrier Roadway Express from Roadway Services. The latter was renamed Caliber System Inc., and included Roadway Package System, Viking and the other regional LTLs, Roberts, Roadway Logistics and Roadway Global Air.