At hearings before the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday, DOT Inspector General Kenneth Mead said he tends to believe that the long-term interests of safety would be best served by a separate Motor Carrier Safety Administration. He said the idea of moving safety enforcement into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would not work as well, because NHTSA regulates truck manufacturing and is not experienced in regulating truck operations.
Mead is the first administration official to publicly encourage creation of a separate administration to provide focus and independence to the federal truck safety program. The program is now run by the Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety, whose performance has been severely criticized in a series of hearings on Capitol Hill.
Mead's suggestion was echoed by other witnesses at the Commerce Committee hearing. Jim Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said he personally likes the idea. Eugene Conti Jr., assistant DOT secretary for transportation policy, said DOT is looking at Mead's idea, but also is considering leaving things as they are for the time being, to see if recent initiatives by OMCHS will produce results.
Walter McCormick, president and CEO of the American Trucking Assns., reiterated ATA's call for a separate motor carrier administration. The agency that ATA has proposed does not have "Safety" in its title, but McCormick said ATA's proposal and Mead's suggestion appear to be two sides of the same coin. Support also came from Steve Campbell, the new executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, and John Murphy of the Teamsters union.
Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, repeated her call for moving OMCHS into NHTSA.
In an interview after the hearing, Mead stressed that a Motor Carrier Safety Administration should be barred from acting as a promoter of the trucking industry's interests. Its role should be to focus DOT resources on improving truck and bus safety, he said, and it should be shielded from industry influence.
Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, did not reveal his thoughts on the subject but did say he expects to propose legislation this year.