In its 52-page assessment of CSA, the watchdog agency acknowledges the successes of the fledgling program but tells the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that it needs to finish work on the big missing piece: the rulemaking to establish carrier safety fitness ratings.
The proposed safety fitness rule, now more than four years in the making, is scheduled to be published in February. It is not likely to be finished until 2013.
"Data from a pilot test suggest that (the CSA Safety Management System) and the expanded range of intervention tools provides a more effective means of contacting …carriers and addressing their safety issue," GAO said.
But GAO also homed in on an issue that is likely to remain a long-term shortcoming: Not all carriers pass through the inspection process frequently enough to generate data for the system.
"Small carriers are less likely to receive enough roadside inspections to be scored and ranked in SMS," GAO said, referencing data that shows a marked drop-off in sufficient data based on the size of the carrier.
For instance: while fleets ranging from 16 to 500 or more trucks have data sufficiency above 50%, those with 6 to 15 trucks have just 28% and those with five or fewer have less than 6%.
Another shortcoming, GAO said, is that the safety agency has not kept Congress and the public well enough informed on the progress of CSA. The agency needs to regularly report to Congress on CSA problems and delays, GAO said.
The safety agency has focused so far on carrier safety ratings but needs to step up work on driver fitness, GAO said.
One reason for this is the agency's concern about having the authority to sideline drivers who are found to be unfit, based on their ratings. To solve that problem, the agency will seek an amendment to the current transportation law when it is revised, perhaps next year.
In its response to the GAO, the safety agency said it intends to pursue the driver fitness program.
For a copy of the report, go to www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-858.