DOT inspector general begins audit of Mexican carrier plan

In what the Bush administration hopes will be the final step in its effort to open the Mexican border to truck traffic, the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General announced its plan to conduct a safety audit required by Congress. Regardless of the outcome of that audit, however, critics clearly aren’t giving up and instead are setting the stage for further political and legal challenges to the pilot program.

In a June 19 letter to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the DOT IG’s office said that in response to recently enacted legislation it will examine whether DOT has established sufficient mechanisms to apply federal motor carrier safety laws and regulations to motor carriers domiciled in Mexico that are granted authority to operate beyond the border commercial zones and to ensure compliance with such laws and regulations.

The new law requires an initial audit before the pilot program as well as an interim report six months later and a final report at the end of the demonstration project. The purpose of the initial report is to determine whether FMCSA has (1) complied with requirements Congress established several years ago; (2) established sufficient mechanisms to ensure that only Mexican carriers that can comply with U.S. motor carrier laws and regulations are granted authority; and (3) established sufficient monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to ensure that Mexican motor carriers actually do comply with those laws and regulations.

Meanwhile, the leading opponents of the Mexican carrier program – a coalition that includes Public Citizen, the Teamsters, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety – said June 20 that the Bush administration is ignoring the will of Congress and the U.S. public by rushing to implement the pilot program.

The critics released an analysis prepared by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety concluding that FMCSA has failed in numerous ways to comply with the terms of the law enacted by Congress in May. The analysis of DOT’s compliance with the federal law could be the basis of a lawsuit to block the program. In addition, the groups released a poll they commissioned concluding that a majority of Americans believe the Bush administration’s plan to allow Mexican commercial trucks to travel outside the commercial zone and throughout the United States is dangerous.