Border opening, security top FMCSA agenda

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Joseph Clapp became the first administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Oct. 5, 2001 – more than 21 months after the agency was created. Clapp comes to the agency with more than 30 years’ experience in trucking, culminating in the position of chairman and chief executive officer of Roadway Services, from which he retired in 1995.

Along the way, Clapp involved himself at times in safety and regulatory matters as he helped build one of the nation’s largest trucking operations. He served as chairman of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences and was a member of the Federal Highway Research Coordinating Committee. We met with Clapp in December to get a sense of FMCSA’s direction under his leadership. In this first of two installments, we discuss with the FMCSA chief those issues that are most pressing for the agency.

CCJ: Although the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has existed for two years, you are its first full-fledged administrator. What are your priorities?

Clapp: The first things are somewhat laid out for us in that we will be absorbed in doing what is necessary to open the border with Mexico in the very near term. We also have work to do with respect to security, and we’ll be working on the hours of service rule as well. And I should add that there’s quite a bit of rulemaking activity that’s on our plate.

CCJ: Let’s discuss these items. The border opening. There are a large number of things that have to be done before the trucks come in. What’s the time line on that?

Clapp: There is quite a bit of work that has to be done in order to get everything ready to open the border. And in order to bring all of those things together it would be my expectation that we are talking about well into the second quarter of next year.

CCJ: Before you will be issuing conditional operating authority?

Clapp: Before we can do that, we have to hire, train and certify staff to carry out the functions that are required to process the applications and to staff the border. There are also requirements on the states to provide facilities and equipment such as scales, weight-in-motion, etc. A number of rulemakings have to be concluded. The inspector general has to do his review and make a report for the secretary. These are a sample of some of the things that have to be accomplished before conditional operating authority is granted and people can begin operating.

CCJ: Security remains a big concern. What long-term changes do you see in terms of how truck companies operate because of the increased security?

Clapp: The most immediate manifestation of the difference, of course, are the requirements of the USA Patriot Act for background checks in which we will have to advise the states concerning the applicant for a hazmat endorsement as to whether the individual under statute and regulation may or may not pose a security risk.

Beyond that we had a concerted effort to visit hazmat carriers in person to review security programs and measures to be taken on a voluntary basis. Among those, of course, is the existence of a security plan that is communicated throughout the organization so that everyone knows his role.

It is clear that vehicle security – whether it be at the carrier facility, loading or unloading, or en route – is a major requirement in and of itself. We will have to consider the possibility of measures beyond this with regard to some high-consequence hazardous material.

CCJ: Have you thought of any measures you would have to take beyond the Patriot Act, such as a requirement for background checks that go beyond drivers with hazmat endorsements?

Clapp: At this point we are not pursuing background checks for all drivers, although I understand the industry is pursuing legislation that would permit that.

CCJ: If expanded background checks were presented to you, would you support it?

Clapp: We don’t have an official position at the department with respect to that legislation. Instead, we’re simply working to implement the legislation that is already in place.

CCJ: The third major concern you mentioned was hours of service. Where are you going on that? You still have the cost-benefit analysis to complete, and that will take some time. You have 50,000 comments that presumably you’ve gone through. Where do you go now?

Clapp: I’m somewhat restricted in what I can say in that it is a current rulemaking. But I have said publicly that we are through the process of analyzing the comments as well as the public meetings that have been held. I am now in the process of making my recommendation as to the next steps to take.

The possibilities range from publishing the final rule, on the one hand, to terminating rulemaking, on the other. And between those extremes, there exists the possibilities of a supplemental rulemaking, or perhaps publishing some portions of the rule, taking others into further study, etc.

The one thing that I can say is that I will be making that determination in the very near future as to what those next steps shall be, because I don’t think anyone is well served by allowing the matter just to hang in the balance.

CCJ: Last summer, the agency submitted recommendations to the DOT secretary on how to proceed on hours of service. Does this mean that you have taken that back and are reassessing the whole issue?

Clapp: I think it’s appropriate that the new appointed administrator personally review and come to a recommendation, and that is the way that I’m doing it.

CCJ: Any hint on how you will proceed?
Clapp: The only hints I’m giving are that I think it is useful to understand a couple of things. One is that this rulemaking was mandated by Congress in 1995. That has been reinforced, also in 1995, by the Safety Summit that was held, as well as by subsequent National Transportation Safety Board recommendations. So it is not a discretionary action on our part.

Secondly, I think rereading the preamble to the rule is a useful exercise. The science says that an individual’s performance does degrade after a certain number of hours or a certain number of days. And, as I’ve said before, it doesn’t do anyone any good to let the matter rest. We have to come to a hard decision that represents our best judgment, and do it as promptly as the complexity of the matter allows.