Scrutiny of the CSA truck safety program went up a notch this week with a congressional request for an audit and the launch of a review by a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration advisory group.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., asked Calvin Scovel, the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation, to audit CSA concerning issues raised in a recent congressional hearing.

DeFazio wants the Inspector General to look into the accuracy, reliability and significance of CSA scores, in light of testimony that the system does not accurately rate carrier performance. He wants the audit done by August 1, 2013.

Yesterday the CSA Subcommittee of the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee began work on an analysis that will ultimately lead to recommendations to FMCSA on how to improve the program.

In a related development, American Trucking Associations yesterday called on FMCSA to be "more candid and transparent" in its evaluations of CSA.

The agency must acknowledge shortcomings in CSA before it can make improvements, said Rob Abbott, ATA vice president for safety policy.

In a continuation of ATA's ongoing critique of the program, Abbott urged the agency to make sure that the CSA Subcommittee hears from researchers who have found flaws in the system.

What DeFazio Wants

DeFazio, the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, listed nearly a dozen questions he wants the Inspector General to answer.

Among them:

* How many active carriers have enough data in the system to generate scores in any or all performance categories?

* What is the relationship between scores and future crash risk in each category?

* Do violation weights reflect future crash risk or increased crash severity?

* Has the agency been transparent with respect to the data on which severity weights are based?

* In light of shipper and intermediary use of CSA data to make business decisions, do scores accurately reflect a carrier's safety?

DeFazio has said CSA does not require legislative action at this point, and that agency Administrator Anne Ferro is getting the message about the program's shortcomings.

He wants to see what FMCSA does in its pending safety fitness rulemaking. This rule, which the agency is expected to propose early next year, will formally incorporate the CSA data and rating system into a standard for determining if a carrier is fit to operate.

The Subcommittee's Agenda

The Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee, a group of 19 officials from industry, the enforcement community and labor and safety advocacy groups that provides counsel to FMCSA on a variety of issues, set up the subcommittee to look into CSA issues.

The subcommittee is at this point focused on planning its approach to the wide-ranging and complex problem of CSA.

At the outset of deliberations yesterday, Chairman David Parker, senior counsel at Great West Casualty, urged the panel members to start with premise that CSA is a good idea that can be improved by compromise among those who use or are affected by the system.

He suggested that the list of questions posed by Rep. DeFazio might be a good place for the panel to start.

Robert Pentracosta, vice president of safety for Con-Way Freight, urged the panel to start its review by identifying CSA's objective. He said it was conceived as a way to leverage the agency's resources to prevent more crashes, but has become a way to account for compliance with the rules.

"If we don't start at the beginning we'll get mired in the details," he said.

The subcommittee continues work today with the aim of producing a preliminary report that will shape its recommendations to the full committee.