A federal watchdog has warned the trucking industry’s top regulator that more changes are needed to improve how it evaluates carrier safety compliance.
In a 27-page report made available on September 27, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) asserted that while a safety action plan by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) partially addresses issues identified in a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study, “it lacks implementation details for improving transparency and its assessment of carrier safety rankings.”
The NAS study, issued in June 2017, made six recommendations to help FMCSA improve the accuracy of its carrier prioritization methodology that’s used in its Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) program. Carriers that have scores above certain thresholds can receive enforcement interventions that range from warning letters to onsite investigations.
The OIG conducted its evaluation over the last year to see if FMCSA’s action plan addressed the NAS recommendations, as required under the FAST Act legislation that became law in 2015.
One recommendation FMCSA has been addressing is that it use a statistical model known as item response theory (IRT) to replace its current safety measurement system (SMS) for prioritizing carrier safety interventions. FMCSA confirmed in the OIG report that it plans to complete testing of the IRT model by September 30 and decide whether to adopt it by September 2020.
But FMCSA did not fully respond to recommendations to improve SMS transparency and carrier safety rankings, according to the OIG. While the Agency acknowledged benefits to making SMS data publicly available on the web, “FMCSA neither explained how these would be user-friendly nor included FAST Act-required estimated costs or an implementation plan,” the report states.
FMCSA’s action plan also lacks details on how it would improve how it assesses motor carrier safety rankings – by using percentile rankings and relative and absolute measures, for example – to help determine which carriers receive safety alerts, the OIG contended. It noted that the agency plans to address this once it decides whether to adopt the IRT model. However, “until the Agency makes this decision, it may face delays in making its [Motor Carrier Management Information System] database, safety measures, and rankings more transparent – whether it continues to rely on SMS or turns to the IRT model.”
In a response letter to the OIG dated September 5, FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez stated that his agency partially concurred with OIG recommendations to provide certain staffing, enforcement, and data collection costs associated as recommended by NAS.
However, Martinez said his agency “has no immediate plans to collect data on carrier exposure and additional crash data,” after reaching out to the industry and determining that much of the data doesn’t exist.
“Upon completion of the IRT modeling by September 30, 2019, FMCSA will decide how to move forward with its prioritization methodology, including providing estimates and benchmarks to complete the remaining open NAS recommendations,” Martinez stated. “FMCSA plans to make this decision by September 30, 2020, after completing a full review of the IRT model.”