Stronger Enforcement Would Help Improve Motor Carrier Safety

RCED-85-64: Published: Sep 5, 1985. Publicly Released: Sep 5, 1985.

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GAO reviewed the motor safety enforcement program carried out by the Federal Highway Administration's (FHwA) Bureau of Motor Carrier Safety (BMCS), focusing on the extent of BMCS oversight of such activities as: (1) the selection of motor carriers and shippers for safety audits; (2) assessment of motor carriers' and shippers' safety compliance; (3) the correction of deficiencies identified by safety audits; and (4) a new program to provide grants for state safety enforcement activities.

GAO found that: (1) while BMCS provides safety investigators with a carrier audit selection priority list, it does not require them to use it; (2) the priority list allows deviations for third-party complaints, accidents involving carriers not on the list, or other unusual circumstances; (3) BMCS regional offices use different criteria and judgment in selecting carriers for audit; and (4) BMCS has not established a similar priority list for shippers. GAO also found that: (1) there was a wide variance among the overall safety ratings recommended by BMCS investigators; (2) while investigators may be preparing ratings in accordance with the established criteria, BMCS has not analyzed the reasons for the differences; (3) there was a wide variance among actions taken by investigators after audits that resulted in unsatisfactory ratings; (4) BMCS regional offices do not always comply with processing standards to ensure timely processing of enforcement cases; (5) BMCS does not have criteria for ensuring that assessed fines are consistent with the severity of violations found; (6) BMCS and FHwA do not always adequately document justifications for assessed fines; and (7) BMCS organizational structure hampers the effective and uniform implementation of the safety program. In addition, GAO found that, for the grant program, BMCS has not: (1) developed clear program goals; (2) defined federal and state roles and responsibilities; (3) established program information needs; or (4) developed program evaluation mechanisms.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Changes made in the motor carrier audit selection process provide that carriers with unsatisfactory safety ratings will be reaudited within 6 months of receiving such a rating. Also, all regional staff will receive training on this subject from August 1986 to September 1986. These actions generally address the intent of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to develop and provide guidance to the investigators that clearly stipulates what conditions need to exist for determining when carriers and shippers not in compliance with the federal safety regulations, including those with completed enforcement cases, should be reaudited.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FHwA considers developing a shipper selection list an important matter. However, FHwA maintains that other matters of higher priority, such as integrating 150 new inspectors into the work force and managing the grant program, preclude developing a list in the near future. GAO agreed with FHwA that other program activities are of higher priority. FHwA developed a shipper selection list in May 1988.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to develop a prioritized selection list for shippers and implement its use.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FHwA initiated a new safety review program pursuant to the 1984 Motor Carrier Safety Act and established safety rating criteria in December 1988.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to develop and provide criteria for safety investigators that identify specific conditions and factors to be used for rating individual parts of the regulations as well as for the overall ratings.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FHwA made changes to its Motor Carrier Safety Manual, effective October 1, 1986, providing new guidance on safety ratings and selecting courses of action. This guidance, in addition to the planned training program and monitoring activities, generally satisfies the intent of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to develop and provide criteria for investigators that specify the conditions or factors for determining and selecting a course of action to take following a safety audit.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FHwA changed its Motor Carrier Safety Manual in June 1986 to provide for systematic monitoring of Motor Carrier Safety Program objectives through program reviews, monitoring of program activities and operations, and conducting annual operational reviews at regional offices.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to establish procedures for monitoring adherence to the criteria, guidance, and procedures to ensure uniform implementation by regional offices and safety investigators following a safety audit.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FHwA has developed an enforcement data tracking system to monitor every investigation report initiated by field staff. This system is capable of following an investigation from its initiation to final processing. The system is now operational in all FHwA regional offices and at headquarters.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to establish procedures for monitoring the processing of enforcement cases to include the time taken between the various stages in the penalty process, analyzing and comparing time taken to process civil assessment cases, following up when FHwA standards are not met, and taking the necessary corrective actions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The FHwA Chief Counsel issued revised guidance for assessing violations of safety regulations to regional attorneys in November 1985. These guidelines, though not as specific as recommended, satisfy the general intent of this recommendation, if properly implemented.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to develop and provide to regional attorneys criteria for assessing fines that relate the fines to the relative risks and severity of the violations committed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The FHwA Chief Counsel issued revised guidance for documenting justifications for assessing and negotiating fines, which is a major improvement over prior guidance and which, if properly implemented, would generally satisfy this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to develop and provide to regional attorneys requirements for fully documenting justifications for assessing and negotiating fines.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Beginning in fiscal year 1986, FHwA modified its selection criteria to provide for carriers most in need of audit being audited first. Also, FHwA changed its Motor Carrier Safety Manual in June 1986 to provide for program monitoring, focusing on activities completed, including audits performed, program reviews to ensure uniformity, consistency, and operational reviews of four regional offices.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to have BMCS directly monitor regional and field office implementation of the motor carrier selection list to ensure that carriers most in need of audit are being audited.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DOT: (1) part one of this recommendation was completed in September 1987; (2) part two was completed in 1986; (3) a study regarding information needs was to be completed in March 1988; (4) new federal program procedures were completed on October 1, 1987; and (5) the Office of Program Management developed a national plan with established goals and objectives in 1987.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to develop a comprehensive federal program process, including: (1) establishing goals and objectives; (2) defining the respective federal and state roles; (3) establishing program information needs; (4) developing monitoring mechanisms; and (5) establishing how the program is to be evaluated on a national scale.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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