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  • Avery Vise

Trump's FMCSA budget strikes softer tone on enforcement

Although President Trump's recommended $1 trillion public/private infrastructure investment plan has garnered most of the discussion in transportation circles regarding his fiscal year 2018 proposed budget, the budget highlights for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration signal a departure from President Obama's FMCSA in the oversight of the trucking industry.

Trump's fiscal 2018 highlights and Obama's fiscal 2017 highlights declare the reduction of crashes and fatalities to be FMCSA's primary mission, but the Obama fiscal 2017 budget focused entirely on safety enforcement with phrases like "raising the bar to enter into the commercial motor vehicle industry" and "removing high-risk carriers, vehicles, drivers, and service providers from operation."

The Trump budget does discuss "targeting high-risk carriers and commercial motor vehicle drivers" -- though not necessarily removing them. However, it also embraces an idea that Obama's FMCSA explicitly rejected on multiple occasions. According to the Trump budget highlights, safety is not the only consideration in regulations. The fiscal budget highlights for FMCSA state:

"In carrying out its safety mandate, FMCSA: (1) Develops and enforces data-driven regulations that balance motor carrier (truck and bus companies) safety with efficiency; (2) Harnesses safety information to focus on high-risk carriers in enforcing the safety regulations; (3) Targets educational messages to carriers, commercial drivers, and the public; and (4) Establishes partnerships with stakeholders including Federal, State, and local enforcement agencies, the motor carrier industry, safety groups, and organized labor on efforts to reduce bus and truck-related crashes."

Aside from the general tone of working with industry, not against it, the fiscal 2018 highlights feature four important words entirely missing from the fiscal 2017 FMCSA budget highlights: Balance, efficiency, partnerships, and stakeholders.

With no leadership in place at FMCSA and few specific actions aside from the withdrawals of rulemakings on safety fitness determinations and passenger-carrier inspections, it's not yet clear how different FMCSA truly will be. However, given the ongoing regulatory review, motor carriers can be sure that any new regulations will be a long time coming.

On the other hand, there aren't any definite signs of a rollback in existing regulations, either. For example, despite ongoing efforts to undo mandatory electronic logging devices (ELDs), there is no sign that the Trump administration is moving in that direction. The agency's May 9 public meeting on technical standards certainly implied that the agency is staying the course, and the fiscal 2018 budget highlights reinforces that notion. The Trump administration is requesting $25.7 million in information management funding "to advance projects such as increasing the resilience and capacity of the overall Information Technology (IT) infrastructure to include an IT environment that is supportive of Electronic Logging Devices and Inspection modernization efforts."

Avery Vise is president of TransComply and a longtime analyst and editor who has covered regulation and legislation in the trucking industry for nearly 20 years. MORE COMMENTARY FROM TRANSCOMPLY

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