FMCSA still working on Mexico cross-border program

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Updated Sep 9, 2011

U.S. transportation officials say they are working to meet a federal audit’s requirements before restarting the cross-border trucking program with Mexico. The U.S. Office of Inspector General’s Aug. 19 audit of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s pilot program, released this week, reports the agency has adequate border inspections but that more action is necessary to meet U.S. regulations and standards.

Federal law requires OIG report to Congress on the program and that FMCSA address the office’s concerns before Mexican trucks begin crossing the border. FMCSA’s Aug. 10 response to the report noted action or plans to satisfy the audit’s requirements before the end of September, when the report is expected to be sent to Congress.

OIG audited the program from April to July. U.S. and Mexican officials signed a memorandum of understanding July 6 to settle the long-haul cross–border trucking dispute between the two nations. Two days later, FMCSA published a Federal Register notice of intent to proceed with the program.

FMCSA said in its audit response that it has begun soliciting proposals for electronic monitoring devices and tracking service it will require for Mexican trucks participating in the program for three years. In April, it had estimated the total cost at $2.5 million, but OIG puts that price at $3.2 million. Although the agency will retain ownership, its plans to fund these devices have drawn criticism from legislators, lobbyists, advocacy groups and unions.

In June, FMCSA officials told OIG they will comply with the law for conducting Pre-Authority Safety Audits and compliance reviews, but had not developed plans and safeguards for conducting PASAs in Mexico. PASA is an FMCSA review in which the motor carrier must demonstrate it complies with requirements for drug and alcohol testing, hours of service, insurance, qualified drivers and vehicle maintenance and inspections.

In late spring, FMCSA had told OIG officials it did not plan to conduct reviews in Mexico due to “safety concerns,” but OIG did not provide further information on these concerns. FMCSA stated in July and August that it had published a PASA policy memorandum, trained staff on new PASA policies and was finalizing plans on how it will conduct PASAs and compliance reviews. The agency also reviewed field staff procedure “when traveling to Mexico for conducting PASA and compliance reviews and will comply with all the legal requirements for conducting reviews in Mexico.”

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Among other action, FMCSA said it was:
• Issuing coordinated site-specific plans or an alternative plan for coordinating with U.S. customs and state entities to ensure program drivers and trucks are inspected at the border;
• Establishing a system to verify driver and truck eligibility for the program; and
• Talking with state officials about enforcement personnel training.

On Sept. 6, the Teamsters and Public Citizen petitioned the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to review the program. Two months earlier, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed to stop the program from proceeding in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.