There must be “swift and firm consequences” for failure to meet safety requirements, said Kenneth Mead, the Department of Transportation’s inspector general, in the fourth round of hearings this year on truck safety.
Mead told members of the House Ground Transportation Subcommittee that the Office of Motor Carriers and Highway Safety has the wrong philosophy about enforcing truck safety. The agency’s collaborative approach works with most carriers but is not effective with the few that flaunt the safety rules. For those, Mead recommends big fines and even forced shutdowns.
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-WV, wanted to know if the safety agency’s shift from enforcement to collaboration is management policy or mismanagement. Mead replied, “It’s not inadvertence.”
Another shortcoming in safety enforcement is the lack of data, said Phyllis F. Scheinberg, associate director for transportation at the General Accounting Office. OMCHS has been too slow to act on congressional orders to beef up its data gathering, Scheinberg said.
Mead and Scheinberg are heading investigations of OMCHS that appear likely to lead to changes in the way the agency does business. Mead said his report will be ready in two to three weeks. Scheinberg expects to be finished in June.
A new theme in this debate emerged with a suggestion by Rep. John Duncan, R-TN, that truck inspections be outsourced to private companies. Mead said OMCHS reviewed the idea in the past and rejected it, but that it’s still worth considering.
The transportation panel’s hearings will continue next week with presentations by industry and other witnesses.