Senate Commerce Committee Hears Testimony on CSA, Raises Concerns

Federal transportation and oversight officials testified before the U.S. Senate subcommittee in charge of surface transportation safety. Representatives of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), Government Accountability Office (GAO), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General (DOT OIG) spoke at length about the problems and successes of FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program.

Testimony from the GAO titled “Improvements to Data-Driven Oversight Could Better Target High-Risk Carriers” noted that CSA and chameleon carrier vetting programs are steps toward better oversight of commercial motor vehicle operators. However, GAO specifically noted two major challenges limiting the precision of Safety Management System (SMS) scores in the CSA system:

  1. Safety Regulations used in SMS are violated too infrequently over a two-year period to reliably assess whether they were accurate predictors of an individual carrier’s likelihood to crash.
  2. Most carriers lack sufficient safety performance data to reliably compare them to other carriers.
GAO once again recommended that FMCSA revise the SMS methodology to better account for information limitations when comparing the safety performance of motor carriers, a recommendation on which FMCSA declined to act in 2014.

The testimony of the DOT Office of Inspector General focused on the delayed implementation of an electronic data system for targeting carrier enforcement interventions. The DOT OIG noted that, despite modest steps in improving data quality within the CSA system, delays in contractor development and failure to follow best practices in building the updated software system remains a significant challenge for FMCSA to fully implement CSA nationally.

In the FMCSA testimony, Acting Administrator F. Scott Darling stated commitment to continuing to improve the SMS to identify motor carriers that pose the greatest risk to safety, despite delays and limited resources. Further, Acting Administrator Darling reiterated the Agency still hopes to publish a proposed rule to increase the use of CSA data in making safety fitness determinations for motor carriers.