Motor Carrier Safety: More Assessment and Transparency Could Enhance Benefits of New Oversight Program

GAO-11-858 Published: Sep 29, 2011. Publicly Released: Sep 29, 2011.
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Highlights

Over 3,600 people in this country died in 2009 as a result of crashes involving large commercial trucks and buses. Until recently the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and its state partners tracked the safety of motor carriers--companies that own these vehicles--by conducting resource-intensive compliance reviews of a small percentage of carriers. In 2004, FMCSA began its Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) program. CSA is intended to identify and evaluate carriers and drivers posing high safety risks. FMCSA has focused on three key CSA oversight activities to evaluate carriers: a new Safety Measurement System (SMS) using more roadside inspection and other data to identify at-risk carriers; a wider range of "interventions" to reach more at-risk carriers; and using SMS data to suspend unfit carriers. FMCSA expected to fully implement CSA by late 2010. FMCSA also plans to separately use data to rate drivers' fitness. In this report, GAO assessed: (1) the status of the CSA rollout and issues that could affect it and (2) CSA's potential to improve safety. GAO reviewed CSA plans and data, visited eight states, and interviewed FMCSA, state, and industry officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation The Secretary of Transportation should direct the FMCSA Administrator to develop a plan for implementing driver fitness ratings that prioritizes steps that need to be completed and includes a reasonable timeframe for completing them. The plan should also address the safety implications of delayed implementation of driver fitness ratings.
Closed – Not Implemented
On 3/13/2015, FMCSA informed GAO that, in 2013, it submitted a plan to Congress outlining a 10-year plan to implement a rating system for drivers. However, FMCSA conducted a feasibility assessment and determined that the agency lacks the resources necessary to implement this system. Consequently, FMCSA informed us that they will not be implementing the system and requested that GAO close this recommendation as not implemented.
Department of Transportation The Secretary of Transportation should direct the FMCSA Administrator to regularly report to Congress on CSA's status; the problems that FMCSA has encountered during the implementation of CSA and the risks they pose to full implementation of CSA; its strategy for mitigating these risks; and a timetable for fully implementing CSA and reporting the progress made in developing and implementing CSA performance measures.
Closed – Implemented
In 2011, GAO reported that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) had mixed success managing implementation of Compliance, Safety Accountability (CSA) program oversight activities thus far. FMCSA performed well in conducting outreach to carriers and responding to stakeholder concerns, but experienced difficulties in realigning its workforce for CSA and adapting staff to CSA's new safety paradigm. FMCSA had not provided comprehensive information to Congress and the public on the risks associated with either the delayed carrier intervention activities or operational and management issues that arose during implementation and its plans to mitigate these risks. Although FMCSA officials indicated they periodically briefed congressional staff of their progress in developing and implementing CSA, FMCSA had not developed any type of comprehensive document that specifically outlines its status, implementation delays, and other issues that needed to be addressed, or identified the risks associated with these problems and strategies to mitigate them. Risk identification and management are essential in the case of CSA, which FMCSA developed with the goal of significantly improving motor carrier safety. Regularly reporting information on the steps FMCSA needed to complete in order to implement CSA--including a timetable--as well as the risks and mitigation strategies associated with not completing each step or addressing each issue, would put FMCSA in a better position to respond to problems when they occur and thus better ensure that FMCSA could complete CSA's implementation as planned. This would also provide Congress and other stakeholders with important information as to FMCSA's status in implementing CSA and the associated risks, which would help Congress make decisions about the program. Therefore, we recommended that FMCSA regularly report to Congress on CSA's status; the problems FMCSA has encountered during the implementation of CSA and the risks they pose to full implementation of CSA; its strategy to mitigate these risks; and a timetable for fully implementing CSA and reporting the progress made in developing and implementing CSA performance measures. Since GAO's report was issued, FMCSA has testified on three occasions, in July 2012, September 2012, and March 2013, and provided written responses to questions for the record after one of these hearings. FMCSA's testimonies summarized its status in implementing CSA and addressed problems identified in th course of implementing CSA and the risks associated with those problems, steps FMCSA plans to take to address the problems, and timeframes for completing those steps. FMCSA also briefed the Senate and House Appropriations committees in April and May 2013 on its progress in developing CSA. These briefings identified actions FMCSA expected to take in fiscal year 2014. FMCSA has also responded in writing to concerns members of Congress raised about CSA. These responses also provided information on FMCSA's progress in implementing CSA, as well as its plans and milestones for addressing concerns that could affect implementation. Finally, according to an FMCSA official, FMCSA met with congressional staff 13 times from August 2012 through July 2013 to discuss its progress in implementing CSA. As a result, Congress has more information to make decisions about funding or authorizations for the program and assurance that CSA is being successfully implemented

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