GAO to FMCSA: Without clear oversight policy of CDL program, hard to know if states are compliant

August 11, 2015

From:  The Trucker News Services


WASHINGTON — Federal oversight of state commercial driver’s licensing programs could be improved, the General Accounting Office said in a report released recently.

The report was issued after completion of a study requested by several members of Congress.

In 2013, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration established a policy for overseeing states’ compliance with the agency’s CDL regulations, including requirements for FMCSA field office personnel to conduct periodic reviews.

The regulations in part were designed to curb CDL fraud, which the GAO said had been detected by state and federal investigations in both knowledge and skills testing.

The report said, for example, in cases of fraud involving skills testing, which has occurred among state and third-party examiners, applicants have bribed examiners or entire schools to present false test results that would enable students to receive passing scores.

The oversight is also necessary, the GAO intimated, because there are so many variables in field skills testing.

The GAO said the 2013 FMCSA policy had several weaknesses, and listed two specifically:

  • Some elements of FMCSA’s oversight policy are unclear, the GAO said, noting that as an example, the policy does not clearly delineate the frequency and type of skills test reviews that should be completed. Consequently, the GAO said, there is a lack of assurance that FMCSA personnel responsible for conducting oversight will have a clear understanding of what is expected of them and that oversight will be conducted consistently.

    • FMCSA’s data system for tracking oversight activities does not readily provide management with accurate and complete information on oversight reviews because it is difficult for users to input or review some information, the GAO said. In six of the 12 states in which the GAO said it conducted interviews, FMCSA field office personnel indicated that they primarily used the data system to monitor non-compliance and were less likely to use the system for logging oversight activities because of, for example, difficulties in using the system. As a result, the GAO said FMCSA management does not have complete and accurate information on what oversight reviews are completed and whether they are conducted per agency policy.

    “Without a clear policy on oversight of CDL programs and a mechanism to accurately track these activities consistent with federal standards for internal control, FMCSA cannot provide reasonable assurance that state CDL programs comply with applicable federal regulations, which is the primary objective of the FMCSA oversight,” the report read.

    To correct the deficiencies, the GAO said the FMCSA should:

    • Clarify agency policy by revising policy documentation, issuing additional guidance, training, or other mechanisms on (1) what oversight of states will be conducted by FMCSA in terms of the frequency and type of required and recommend reviews, (2) how compliance determinations should be made and documented, and (3) what information and documentation must be recorded and available to FMCSA management on oversight activities and compliance determinations.

    • Improve or obtain a mechanism for tracking oversight activities in order that FMCSA management has a clear and accurate understanding of oversight activities and that they are being conducted in accordance FMCSA oversight policy.

    In pointing to the need for the appropriate oversight of the issuance of CDLs, the GAO said in its letter to lawmakers who asked for the study that commercial motor vehicles, such as large trucks and buses, are integral to interstate and intrastate commerce and daily mobility for millions of people in the United States.

    “The CDL is the main qualification drivers need to operate many of these vehicles,” the GAO told the lawmakers. “In 2013, over 500,000 motor carriers operated in the United States and about 3.9 million people held CDLs. Commercial motor vehicles are involved in a disproportionate percentage of highway fatalities.”

    The GAO noted that in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available, 3,964 people were killed, and 95,000 injured in vehicle incidents involving large trucks alone, accounting for over 12 percent of total highway fatalities — even though these vehicles account for about 4 percent of vehicles on the road and 9 percent of total vehicle miles traveled.”

    In a one-page response to the report, the FMCSA said it agreed with the recommendations and would comply with them.