OIG wants better data for cross-border program

March 3, 2009
The minimum number of Mexican carriers that must participate in the NAFTA cross-border trucking program must be determined by valid statistical results

The minimum number of Mexican carriers that must participate in the NAFTA cross-border trucking program must be determined by valid statistical results.

That was one of the recommendations from the Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in a status report released February 6. The OIG said that FMCSA has not provided the statistical data necessary for the OIG to make an accurate determination of some of the program's aspects.

"The demonstration project lacks an adequate number of carriers and participants are not representative in some respects of Mexican carriers likely to conduct long-haul operations in the United States," the OIG stated in the report.

The OIG also voiced concern about FMCSA's quality control measures to ensure that all Mexican trucks were checked at the border. At the same time, the report indicated that FMCSA took steps to ensure that all convictions of Mexican drivers were recorded in the Mexican conviction data base and that licensing, insurance, and Mexican monitoring systems were working well to monitor coverage, as well as initiating any needed enforcement actions.

The OIG is tasked with evaluating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) demonstration program that allows US-approved Mexican carriers to operate in the United States beyond the US/Mexico border. The program has been mired in controversy since its inception September, 6, 2007, and has faced opposition that includes members of Congress, the Teamsters, Public Citizen, and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. A bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in February of this year that would prevent funding for the program.

Meanwhile the OIG said in the report that in order for the office to calculate the data required, FMCSA must address at a minimum the definition of the universe of Mexican carriers likely to travel beyond the commercial zones for which estimates are to be made; the sampling unit for which measurements are to be made, such as drivers, vehicles, trucks, or carriers; the attributes or variables to be estimated or compared, such as driver out-of-service rates, vehicle out-of-service rates, or crash rates; the confidence level; and the margin of error that these estimates should achieve.

FMCSA was also told it would be necessary to develop a plan for achieving an adequate level of participation if the current number of Mexican carriers participating in the project is less than the number of carriers necessary to yield statistically valid results. FMSCA also must provide the OIG and appropriate congressional committees the calculated minimum sample size, the methodology used to calculate the minimum sample size, and the plan to achieve adequate participation of Mexican carriers in the demonstration project as needed.

In addition to the statistical data, the OIG recommended that FMCSA obtain assurance that every demonstration truck is checked every time it crosses into the United States by developing and implementing a new quality control plan, and provide to OIG and appropriate congressional committees a complete description of this plan and the procedures used to implement the plan.

The OIG also recommended that FMCSA conduct a cost/benefit analysis to determine whether renewing global positioning system services provides benefits that outweigh the costs.