NMCA Can Be Dream or Nightmare

Nov. 1, 1999
The chances for a modal administration for the trucking industry appear to be the best they have been in 15 years. Many in the industry see this as a

The chances for a modal administration for the trucking industry appear to be the best they have been in 15 years. Many in the industry see this as a dream come true. Let's hope it doesn't turn into a nightmare.

As things stand now, the House of Representatives voted 415 to 5 on passage of HR 2679, the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1999, which calls for creation of a new National Motor Carrier Administration (NMCA) within the Department of Transportation. Senate action isn't expected before 2000.

House approval of the NMCA followed congressional action that stripped truck safety enforcement from the Federal Highway Administration. Speaking before the full House, Rep Bud Shuster (R-PA), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the new modal administration is a must.

"We owe it to the driving public to ensure that the trucks with which they share the road are safe," Shuster said. "[The NMCA] will be dedicated to truck and bus safety. Trucking will now have the same organizational status within DOT as aviation safety, automobile safety, and maritime safety."

Walter B McCormick Jr, president and chief executive officer of the American Trucking Associations, echoed Congressman Shuster's enthusiasm: "This is a major victory for highway safety. It is the culmination of a 15-year effort on the part of the American Trucking Associations to see motor carrier safety given the same priority as air carrier safety. We are grateful to Chairman Shuster, Congressman (Jim) Oberstar (R-MN), and the leadership of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for recognizing that the country's dominant freight transportation mode-responsible for 82% of freight transportation revenues-needs to have an agency dedicated to advancing its safety."

An NMCA bill still has to make its way through the Senate, and any differences will need to be ironed out by a conference committee. While the Senate bill may face stiffer opposition, its sponsor-Sen John McCain (R-AZ)-has pledged to promote the bill aggressively.

So, the NMCA has a reasonably good chance of being established. The next steps will be to decide what to include in this new modal administration and the source of funding. Modal administrations serve two basic functions-safety regulation and promoting the specific mode. This dual function often results in compromises by the politically appointed administrators that can embarrass and even hurt the industry that is represented. A good example is the criticism that has been directed at the Federal Aviation Administration and airlines for the rapid rise in flight delays and cancellations in recent months.

In all likelihood, the Office of Motor Carriers will be rolled into the NMCA, along with trucking industry functions from other agencies. We have to hope that hazardous materials regulatory activity remains with the Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA). It would be a serious mistake to even consider moving those functions. RSPA does a fine job of working on hazardous materials transportation and handling issues for all modes. It has a skilled and experienced team in place.

Funding may become more of a challenge in the future. The new NMCA will have to belly up to the trough for its own share of the transportation funds just like all of the other administrations. It will have to justify its own existence without benefit of the cover that was provided to the Office of Motor Carriers in the past by the Federal Highway Administration. On the other hand, the administrator should be better able to determine the programs that are needed and what they will cost.

Selection of the administrator is another challenge. There is no guarantee that the administrator will be someone who supports the trucking industry. A worst nightmare would be someone like Joan Claybrook, chairman of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH). That's what we could get with an Al Gore presidency.

Her years in charge of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration during the Carter Administration left a trail of regulatory disasters. She is probably best remembered for mandating unproven and faulty antilock braking technology in the late 1970s that resulted in numerous accidents and near accidents before the federal courts issued an injunction and halted enforcement.

Beyond any doubt, the trucking industry deserves the support and advocacy that the other transportation modes receive. For decades, the trucking industry has suffered from a lack of regulatory focus at DOT, and this concern should be eliminated by the NMCA. We just have to make sure that the NMCA turns out to be a dream come true, not a nightmare.

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.