At hearings before the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation Wednesday, Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, John Breaux, D-LA, Olympia Snowe, R-ME, and Max Cleland, D-GA, indicated their support for moving safety out of the Federal Highway Administration.
Breaux told Federal Highway Administration chief Kenneth Wykle, "I think your office is in serious danger of losing its program." The Louisiana Senator expressed outrage at a New Orleans bus accident that killed 22 people. The bus driver had a valid commercial driver's license even though he had been fired twice for drug abuse and had disqualifying health problems.
"The facts are clear," he said. "It's not working."
Strong support for the Department of Transportation reorganization also came from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, American Trucking Assns., the Teamsters Union and the Inspector General of DOT.
Joan Claybrook, representing Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, continued to press for moving safety into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. She applauded a provision in Sen. John McCain's safety bill that would give NHTSA control over vehicle retrofit requirements. Walter McCormick, president and CEO of ATA, pressed the committee to change that provision, arguing that the responsibility belongs with the new Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The only support for the status quo came from FHWA itself, which continues to hold that safety and highway programs should be linked within that administration. Wykle and assistant DOT secretary Peter J. Basso urged the subcommittee to follow the recommendations of former Congressman Norman Mineta, who suggested keeping safety in FHWA but giving it a higher organizational status there.
The Senators appeared unimpressed by that idea. "When in doubt, reorganize," said Cleland.
For more on the hearing, visit http://www.senate.gov/~commerce/issues/surtran.htm