Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater has enlisted a respected Washington veteran to help lower the heat in the congressional dispute over truck and bus safety enforcement.
Norman Mineta, former chairman of House Committee on Public Works and Transportation and now a vice president at Lockheed Martin, agreed to lead a Blue Ribbon Task Force in search of consensus on how to improve safety.
Right now the issue is being driven by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-VA. Wolf has introduced a bill to move the Office of Motor Carriers, which enforces truck safety rules, from its current home in the Federal Highway Administration to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Wolf says OMC needs to move because it is too cozy with the trucking industry.
Mineta is not convinced that moving OMC is a solution.
“The issue is probably not where does that (OMC) box belong in the organizational chart, but what’s really being done in terms of motor carrier safety,” he said in an interview. “I think the bigger picture is about what’s happening in terms of truck safety and accidents.”
He is concerned, for example, about whether states are getting adequate federal support for truck and bus inspectors. “There are probably very few states that put additional money into their safety inspection programs other than what they are getting through the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program.”
Mineta is gathering recommendations for a dozen or so safety experts from government, industry and the academic community to sit on the panel. His selections will be based on the interests each person represents and whether they can contribute to the discussion on an open, honest basis, he said.
Mineta expects to schedule the first meeting by the end of the month. It will take at least 90 days to produce a report. He said the panel will be working with – “or at least listening to” – the General Accounting Office as it conducts its audit of OMC. Congress will not act on the OMC move until it has the GAO audit, as well as one being conducted by the Transportation Department’s Inspector General.