Debate on the future of the Office of Motor Carriers opened yesterday with hearings before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
The status of OMC, the office in the Federal Highway Administration that enforces truck safety rules, is part of a general examination of trucking safety that will unfold in congressional hearings and federal investigations in the coming months.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-VA, is pushing for OMC to be moved from FHWA to the National Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates equipment safety. While Wolf and other representatives share concerns about OMC's performance as the truck safety regulator, the hearings also reflect a turf battle between House committees. With today's hearing and others to follow, the Transportation Committee asserted jurisdiction over the issue – before Wolf could do so in hearings before his panel, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, later this month.
It is not a foregone conclusion that OMC will be moved. Thomas Petri, R-WI, who chaired the hearing, said he wants the debate to be “open and inclusive.” He revealed possible skepticism about the idea when he noted that it was not part of the extensive discussion about highway safety during passage of last year's Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-WV, indicated that the benefits of the move would have to be clear before he could support it.
OMC is in the spotlight because after a decade of improvement, trucking’s safety performance has leveled out, as measured by fatalities per mile. Concern about this has prompted audits of OMC by the General Accounting Office and the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General. Petri said no decisions would be made until those studies are complete.
Among the witnesses at the hearing was OMC’s new chief, Julie Cirillo, who last month replaced George Reagle as associate administrator. Cirillo and FHWA administrator Kenneth Wykle told the panel that OMC’s three-pronged strategy for improving safety is based on performance-based enforcement, education and training, and use of technology to reduce crashes.
The committee plans to hold at least two more hearings.