Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood sent to House and Senate leaders last week a letter asserting that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has fulfilled all the requirements necessary to launch a pilot program allowing long-haul Mexican trucks to operate beyond U.S. border zones. The first approval under that pilot will trigger the suspension of the remaining Mexican retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports and could come as early as this month.

Under a 2007 law FMCSA must first test long-haul operations as part of a pilot program before it grants long-haul operating authority to Mexico-domiciled motor carriers. The same law requires that before a pilot program is initiated (1) DOT’s Office of Inspector General must provide an initial report verifying FMCSA’s compliance with requirements Congress established in 2001 and (2) DOT must take action as necessary to address any issues raised in the OIG report and submit a report to Congress detailing such actions.

OIG satisfied the first criterion in September when it issued a report pointing out that FMCSA had still not met several requirements concerning pre-authorization safety audits and compliance reviews, checking Mexican drivers and trucks at the border and verifying their eligibility for the pilot, issuing an implementation plan, acquiring needed electronic monitoring devices and conducting training for federal personnel. LaHood’s letter aims to satisfy the second criterion by highlighting the following actions FMCSA has taken in response to the OIG report.

• FMCSA has developed, implemented and provided to OIG a policy providing direction on how it will comply with the requirement to conduct 50% of the PASAs and compliance reviews in Mexico. FMCSA will be sending auditors in teams to ensure safety during the PASAs and compliance reviews. As of Oct. 3, 11 Mexico-domiciled motor carriers had applied for long-haul authority and FMCSA had completed PASAs for two of them.

• Rather than issuing site-specific plans for checking trucks and drivers participating in the pilot program as they cross the border, FMCSA has developed an overall plan for coordinating with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the states to ensure that participating trucks and drivers are inspected at the border. FMCSA will pre-approve each participating driver and each vehicle, and approved vehicles will display a suffix at the end of their DOT Identification Number to enable enforcement personnel to quickly identify long-haul Mexico-domiciled vehicles. Furthermore, commercial motor vehicle inspectors will conduct a compliance check of each approved driver and vehicle during the carrier’s first three months in the pilot program. Once the carrier successfully completes this first phase of the program, compliance checks will be conducted randomly and the status of 50% of all participating drivers will be verified. FMCSA will use electronic monitoring devices with global positioning system capabilities to track participating vehicles.

• FMCSA has completed work to post eligibility information on its Query Central system by adding a module that lists approved vehicles by vehicle identification number, make and model and lists approved drivers by name, date of birth and driver’s license number. This system became operational Aug. 22 and FMCSA has provided training materials to states, law enforcement and participating carriers.

• FMCSA awarded a contract for electronic monitoring devices on Aug. 29. Once a carrier successfully completes the application for authority, CBP vetting and PASA processes and files evidence of financial responsibility, FMCSA will schedule installation of the electronic monitoring devices on the vehicles approved for participation.

• FMCSA provided webinars for law enforcement staff Aug. 30 and 31 that provided an explanation of the pilot program and law enforcement’s role when encountering participating drivers and vehicles. Those webinars were recorded and posted to FMCSA’s Web site and will remain available online for viewing. In addition, FMCSA has trained 100% of its auditors who will conduct PASAs on the procedures for conducting PASAs and inspections of participating carriers, drivers and vehicles.

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