The new boss of the federal government’s truck safety program, Julie Anna Cirillo, has a message for unsafe truckers: Go ahead, make my day.
“If there is a segment of the industry that thinks they can skimp on safety, I’m here to tell them that they are not going to be able to do that,” Cirillo said in an interview. “We will target the high-risk carriers and we will do whatever it takes to get them into compliance.”
At the same time, the Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety is not in the business of shutting down carriers, Cirillo said. “If we have to shut down a carrier, then we failed. We are not in the business of putting carriers out of business. We are in the business of ensuring that carriers are safe, that they are complying with the regulations to carry forward the needs of the country.”
But make no mistake. She will shut down carriers and fine them. “It’s essentially to get those folks' attention, and the attention of folks who are thinking that they can slip into poor performance as well.”
Cirillo took over as program manager of OMCHS in January with one clear goal: to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries due to truck crashes. She came in at a time when the high-profile agency was seen to be floundering due to mismanagement by the previous leadership. The agency’s shortcomings have been publicly examined in a series of Washington, DC, hearings this winter and spring, and Cirillo is under considerable pressure to show results.
Cirillo, at 56 a career Federal Highway Administration employee, has a sure sense of how to navigate through the hazards of her new job.
She notes that she has the full support of her boss, Federal Highway Administrator Kenneth Wykle, and says: “I have one big advantage over most other people. I happen to know about safety.
“I happen to know how to determine what problems are and know what are potential solutions. I happen to know that when the Congress directs you to do something, as a member of the executive branch, you do what Congress has directed you to do.”
Here's what Cirillo is doing:
· Shifting resources with the agency to put more time and energy into enforcement. She’s targeting a 200% increase in the number of compliance reviews, from about one and a half per inspector per month, to between four and five per inspector per month.
· Raising the cost of unsafe operations by charging higher fines.
· Moving quickly on a broad range of safety initiatives covering operations, drivers, data collection, highways and border crossing. (For details of the agency’s three-year safety action plan, go to http://www.heavytruck.com/cgi-bin/rsnewsframe?990419.30.)
· Proposing a five-year strategic plan to toughen testing and enforcement of the commercial driver license. Details of the plan are not yet available.
· Working with agency staff and leadership to improve morale, which she admits is not good. “We have essentially tried to suggest to people that what's done is done. It’s in the past and we can't do anything to change it. We have to move forward.”
· Calling for the support and cooperation of the industry. She has nothing to say about criticism that the agency has had too “cozy” a relationship with the trucking industry: “I have no knowledge of [that].” But she adds: “I can’t do it by myself. It would be virtually impossible for this office to be successful without some relationship with the industry ... and the safety interest groups.”
Cirillo said that while she supports the Transportation Department's ongoing study of where the safety agency fits in its organization chart, in her view, it belongs where it is. “In my personal view, you cannot separate safety from the facility on which it operates,” she said.
As a member of the FHWA leadership team, Cirillo said she brings safety interests to bear on the design, construction and maintenance of the highways. “I think that separation of safety from the mode in which it operates is counterproductive. I would argue that moving it to NHTSA and a separate administration is not in the best interest of safety.”