Also, the agency is extending the deadline for comments on the proposal from Oct. 31 to Dec. 15.
At each roundtable, about 20 invited guests will have an opportunity to talk at length about the most complex and controversial parts of the proposal. The proposal, which would require truck and bus companies to fundamentally change their operating practices, has ignited a firestorm of opposition not seen in trucking since economic deregulation in 1980.
Announcement of the roundtables is scheduled for today, so the invited guests have not been named.
The roundtables extend a comment process that already has produced more than 700 witnesses in 16 days of public hearings, and more than 50,000 written statements.
They have a political as well as a regulatory purpose, say sources within and outside of the Department of Transportation. The department is fighting a provision in a Senate bill that would throttle the rulemaking by cutting off its funding for a year.
That provision was inserted in the Senate’s DOT appropriations bill by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., at the request of American Trucking Associations. ATA says the safety agency’s proposal is ineffective and too expensive.
The roundtables could wind up being one element in a package of alternatives that DOT hopes will convince Shelby to at least allow the rulemaking process to continue. Other elements might be a pledge not to post a final rule until a date certain next year, and to activate the Motor Carrier Advisory Committee that was chartered in the truck safety law Congress passed late last year. (See "DOT Pressing to Keep Hours of Service Reform in Gear," Aug. 3, 2000.)
Discussions between DOT and congressional staff are continuing while Congress is out during the August recess. A final decision is not expected until Congress returns in September and resumes work on the DOT appropriations bill.
Here is the roundtable schedule:
* Roundtable I, Sept. 25-26, will cover the economic impact of the proposal, fatigue research and enforcement. It will be held at the National 4-H Center, 7100 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Chevy Chase, Md.
* Roundtable II, Sept. 28-29, will cover sleeper berth requirements, communications during rest periods, weekend rest periods and hours of work permitted each day. It will be held at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, 2660 Woodley Rd., N.W., Washington, D.C.
* Roundtable III, Oct. 5-6, will cover the five categories of carrier operations, electronic onboard recorders and exemptions. It will be at the Marriott hotel.