ATA files suit seeking supporting documents regulation

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Lawsuit gavelThe American Trucking Associations on Tuesday, Jan. 19, announced that it filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit asking it to compel the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue a long-overdue hours-of-service supporting documents regulation.

ATA on Jan. 15 filed a “mandamus” action by which a court can compel government officials to perform their legal duties. In the action, ATA is asking the court to require the agency to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) within 60 days of the court’s ruling and a final rule within six months of the NPRM publication date. Actions to require agencies to issue overdue regulations are common and often result in a settlement whereby the agency agrees to act within a negotiated timeframe.

“We have a tremendous amount of respect for the Department of Transportation and the work they do, but we had to show the department just how important the supporting documents issue is to our industry,” says Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer. “We hope this lawsuit prompts a greater focus on the issue and that the department will be willing to work with us to get the regulation out within a reasonable timeframe.”

Supporting documents refer to the documents a motor carrier must retain for six months that can be used to verify drivers’ HOS records. In 1994, Congress recognized that the failure of DOT to properly define for motor carriers what constituted a supporting document was imposing a financial and administrative burden on the trucking industry. Consequently, Congress ordered the agency to promulgate a rule that would designate the “number, type, and frequency of [required] supporting document retention” and to ensure that such retention would be at a “reasonable cost” to motor carriers.

Despite the congressional directive, which called for a rule to become effective in 1996, DOT has failed to act. Instead, the agency has by informal guidelines adopted a broad definition of supporting document retention, identifying 34 categories of records and ruling that any document that possibly could be used to verify HOS records must be retained as a supporting document. Accordingly, the administrative and financial burden recognized by Congress remains in place, and the agency’s recent pursuit of various types of electronic records – as supporting documents – in compliance reviews has exacerbated the problem.

“In order to comply, trucking companies need to know what the rules are,” says Dave Osiecki, ATA senior vice president of policy and regulatory affairs. “In the case of supporting documentation for hours of service, the requirements have never been established by regulation. ATA has been seeking a fair and cost-effective regulation, consistent with federal law, for more than 15 years.”