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Hours of Service rule victim of government shutdown

Photo credit: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) ambitious goal to get a final rule on hours-of-service (HOS) in place within a year of its initial announcement is in jeopardy as the government shutdown passed the one-month mark.

While FMCSA itself is up and running (it receives its funding through the Highway Trust Fund), employees at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which reviews and approves all federal rulemaking proposals, are currently furloughed due to the shutdown.

Also on furlough are employees within the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), which coordinates with OMB on any revisions before the proposal can be sent back to the agency and published in the Federal Register.

That has placed the HOS proposal in a holding pattern until the shutdown ends and OMB and USDOT get their funding renewed.

“Even then, because there will be a backlog at OMB from USDOT as well as other agencies, the HOS rulemaking could be delayed well past the end of the shutdown,” depending on where in the review process the HOS proposal is currently on hold, a USDOT source told FreightWaves.

A plan by U.S. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, which is said to be similar to a compromise proposed by President Trump last weekend to end the shutdown, is expected to be voted on later this week but will likely be rejected by Democrats, according to reports.

The shutdown places a major roadblock in front of FMCSA Administrator Raymond Martinez’s goal to finish changes to HOS “faster than typical Washington speed,” as he characterized his original intention in October 2018, speaking at the American Trucking Associations’ annual Management Conference & Exhibition in Austin, Texas.

With at least one-quarter of the federal government on hold since December 22, however, the chances of getting a formal notice of proposed rulemaking published in January or February – and a final rule in place by August, a year after the initial proposal was announced – are significantly diminished.

Rollout of the formal proposal is being closely watched by all segments of the trucking industry, particularly independent owner-operators, who contend that electronic logging devices, which have been required since April 2018, have exposed the shortfalls of the current HOS rules.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association petitioned FMCSA to allow drivers to take rest breaks once per 14-hour period for up to three consecutive hours as long as the driver is off-duty, and to also eliminate the 30-minute break requirement.

In an interview with FreightWaves in December, Martinez anticipated that once the proposal is published, “we’re not going to make everyone happy – that either we went too far or not far enough. But I think what we’ve done to date should show that we’re dealing honestly, and we’re motivated to move the ball forward.”

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John Gallagher, Washington Correspondent

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.