Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:

Education and Outreach Programs Target Safety and Consumer Issues, but Gaps in Planning and Evaluation Remain

GAO-06-103: Published: Dec 19, 2005. Publicly Released: Dec 19, 2005.

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is responsible for improving commercial vehicle safety and uses education and outreach as part of its efforts. The House report accompanying the fiscal year 2005 Department of Transportation (DOT) appropriations bill asked GAO to report on FMCSA's education and outreach programs to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations. GAO (1) describes FMCSA's education and outreach programs and how they relate to FMCSA's goals (2) identifies the extent to which FMCSA has evaluated its education and outreach programs and (3) describes the extent to which FMCSA's education and outreach programs are effective.

FMCSA's education and outreach programs--New Entrant, Non-Entrant, Motor Coach, Safety Belt, and Household Goods' target different audiences, including the motor carrier industry, commercial vehicle drivers, and the public.Total funding for these programs in fiscal year 2005 was $36.3 million; the largest share (about $33 million) went to the New Entrant program, which is designed to inform newly registered motor carriers (new entrants) about motor carrier safety standards and regulations to help them gain compliance with FMCSA requirements. FMCSA uses many approaches, such as direct contact with carriers, media campaigns, distributing printed materials, and establishing Web sites to provide information to target audiences. FMCSA has not described how its education and outreach program activities link expected changes in attitudes and behavior to broader goals, such as DOT's strategic objective of reducing transportation-related fatalities. FMCSA officials state that the education and outreach activities and programs link to agency goals at a high level, but this was not evident from our review, with the exception of the Safety Belt program. FMCSA has used a logic model as a tool in other programs to show the relationship between program activities and broader goals. FMCSA has begun some evaluations of its education and outreach programs, and plans other evaluations of these programs. However, although FMCSA's New Entrant program has existed for over 2 years, FMCSA has no plans to evaluate its New Entrant program until 2008. Thus FMCSA has no information on whether information on its safety requirements, provided through the Education and Technical Assistance package or during New Entrant safety audits--targeted toward truckers newly entering the industry--effectively communicate information to new entrants. This lack of evaluation makes it difficult to determine the impact the education portion of the New Entrant program has on commercial motor vehicle safety. Since FMCSA currently has little information on how its programs have affected attitudes and behavior, it is difficult to determine the effectiveness of FMCSA's effort. However, the designs of two programs appear to follow theories and research regarding media campaigns, which are intended to influence decision making about safety. Research and behavior theory suggest that for some types of programs--such as DOT's Click It or Ticket program, which is designed to increase safety-belt use by passenger car drivers--enforcement linked to education can improve results, and FMCSA has indicated it is linking some education and outreach programs to enforcement efforts, where appropriate. Finally, motor carrier association officials whom we spoke with stated that, in their view, FMCSA is doing some positive things in its education and outreach activities. A public safety group stated that FMCSA followed reasonable approaches in starting its education and outreach efforts; however, they would like to see more information on program effectiveness to help FMCSA refine the programs.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To better demonstrate how FMCSA education and outreach programs contribute to achieving agency goals, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator of FMCSA to ensure that the agency describes and documents how education and outreach program activities link to and support broader program and agency goals in a planning, program, or budget document that is available to the public.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation that the agency describe and document how education and outreach program activities link to and support broader program goals, FMCSA included discussion of how their education and outreach activities supported a number of programs in its FY 2009 performance budget in response to GAO. FMCSA also provided more detailed logic models to GAO on the education and outreach activities that support a number of their programs such as New and Non Entrants, Share the Road Safely and Safety Belt Usage Improvement

    Recommendation: To better demonstrate how FMCSA education and outreach programs contribute to achieving agency goals, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator of FMCSA to evaluate the effectiveness of the education and outreach of the New Entrant program, assessing the extent to which the Education and Technical Assistance Package and safety audits are helping new carriers learn and understand FMCSA requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Open

    Comments: As for the recommendation from GAO-06-103, in which GAO recommended FMCSA conduct a study on the New Entrant program, the status is still the same. FMCSA completed a New Entrant Effectiveness Study and the study is under agency review. The Agency will share the results with GAO when the review is completed.

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