Last Friday Congress approved a compromise that permits the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to continue working on its reform proposal, and issue a supplemental proposal, but prevents the agency from issuing a final rule until after Oct. 1, 2001.
The compromise involved a legislative proposal pushed by American Trucking Assns. that would have prohibited the safety agency from doing any work at all on this or any similar proposal for a year.
“We’re pleased with the outcome,” said Julie Anna Cirillo, acting assistant administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. “The decision is important because it enables us to keep moving forward. If we had to close down, it would have . . . significantly delayed the rule.”
Asked if there is any advantage to the delay, Cirillo said it is unlikely the agency could have finished a rule before next October anyway.
She also said that she got useful information out of the roundtable discussions on the rule that wrapped up last Friday.
Particularly useful, she said, were the discussions about the cost of the proposal (See "Round and Round at the Hours of Service Roundtable," Sept. 26, 2000) and the concerns of specific segments.
“The roundtables were successful and worthwhile,” she said. “Having done them, I would do them again.”
Cirillo revealed that FMCSA officials had begun talking about holding roundtables even before the early-summer field hearings were completed. It was obvious early on, she indicated, that the agency needed more information.
Industry spokesmen at the roundtable applauded the delay in the final rule.
“The compromise buys us time,” said Patrick Quinn, co-chairman of U.S. Xpress.
Cliff Harvison, president of the National Tank Truck Carriers, observed that, in effect, nothing has changed.
“Nobody reasonably anticipated that (FMCSA) could finish the rule before next fall, with or without legislation,” he said. “The legislation preserves the status quo.”
Timothy Lynch, president of the Motor Freight Carriers Assn., told us, “We did not want a rule in undue haste. Any delay is a plus.”
Jim Johnston, president of the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Assn.: “It was a wise decision.
“It is good that they did not kill the process,” Johnston added. “At least we can move forward. This gives the rule writers a chance to develop workable rules.”
Lane Kidd, president of the Arkansas Trucking Assn., echoed Lynch’s concern about undue haste – then noted that the trucking industry has been advocating hours of service reform for 25 years. “Now we have a process under way. Without the process continuing, we could not keep things moving.”
In an exchange during the final moments of Friday’s roundtable, Charles Whittington, president of Grammer Industries, explained that his company and others are now signing service contracts with customers for next year. He is worried, he said, that a new hours of service rule will emerge that could force him to alter his contracts.
“We need to know when it’s coming,” he said.
Cirillo replied, “I would feel confident to sign a contract for next year.”
Cirillo also tried to indicate what the industry can expect from the process. The agency will continue to accept public comments until Dec. 15. She said agency staff have begun categorizing the 50,000 comments that have been filed so far.
Between now and next October, the agency can request more information, or issue a supplemental notice – which could amount to a substantive rewrite of the proposal.
One suggestion on the table is to unplug the electronic onboard recorder requirement and issue it as a separate proposal.
Cirillo indicated she does not expect any substantive action before late spring. Besides the work of reviewing the docket, the agency will have to deal with a change in presidential administrations, and with its own reorganization.
“We will keep you informed,” Cirillo said.