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Reauthorization Deferred to the Next Congress

I. Reauthorization Deferred to the Next Congress

 

The lame-duck session of the 108th Congress has failed to complete work on the conference that would reconcile differences-primarily on overall funding levels–between the bills reauthorizing TEA-21 leaving it for the new Congress to take up next year.

The Senate-passed bill provided for $318 billion in overall contract authority (from the Highway Trust Fund) and $301 billion in guaranteed funding. The House bill provided for $299 billion in overall contract authority and $284 billion in guaranteed funding. The next deadline is May 31, 2005, which marks the end of the eight month extension of TEA-21 that Congress passed on September 30, 2004.

While Chairmen of the Committees with jurisdiction over Reauthorization in both the Senate and House have said they will introduce the same legislation that passed their respective bodies in this session of the Congress, the entire process must start all over again. This means that as reauthorization legislation takes shape in the new Congress it may be revised from that enacted by the House and Senate this year. There also will be some changes in the staff of the key Committees. Some of these changes will occur because of term limits for Committee Chairmen in the Senate. Senator McCain, current Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, will be replaced by Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. All of this means that CVSA will have to reaffirm its motor carrier safety reauthorization policies in the new Congress.

 

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II. Transportation/Treasury Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2005

 

This measure was part of the omnibus appropriations bill that funded nine other federal departments and was passed in the lame-duck session the week before Thanksgiving. The omnibus bill, however, is temporarily held up in the Congress pending further action to remove a controversial provision regarding accessibility to federal income tax returns. This matter is expected to be resolved next week when the Congress returns for another lame-duck session to attempt final passage of the Intelligence Reform bill that resulted from the 9/11 Commission recommendations. A CR remains in effect extending 2004 funding levels through December 8, 2004.

The final 2005 DOT Appropriations Conference Agreement retained key provisions from the bills reported out of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees that we reported on in the October 12, 2004 CVSA Legislative Update. These provisions include funding for CDL, border, and new entrant state grant programs despite the fact that Reauthorization has not yet passed.

Overall 2005 funding approved for FMCSA is $447,547,000 million* of which $240,200,000 is specifically directed to the states as follows:

 

2004 Enacted 2005 Enacted
State Core Grants 129,560,000 133,350,000
Incentive Grants 11,039,000 7,100,000
High Priority Grants 8,450,000 9,450,000
New Entrants 24,900,000 30,200,000
State Training & Administration 2,100,000 2,100,000
CDL State Grants 21,000,000 20,000,000
State Border Grants
(Northern & Southern)
32,000,000 33,000,000
PRISM 5,000,000 5,000,000
Total 234,000,000 240,200,000

 

(* All of the 2005 amounts are subject to a .80 recission. This is an across-the-board reduction that applies to the entire omnibus bill that became necessary in order to finance last minute spending additions to the overall bill. The total amount for all FMCSA projects, programs and activities is reduced to $443,967,000 from $447,547,000.)

Once the 2005 Omnibus Appropriations bill clears the Congress and the President signs it, the above 2005 funding levels will be available through May 31, 2005 (8 months or 2/3rds of the fiscal year) when the current eight month extension of TEA-21 is due to expire. Beyond that, it will take passage of the overall Reauthorization bill or another extension of TEA-21 to release the remaining balance (1/3) of the 2005 Fiscal Year funding. Therefore, once again, funds can only be released by FMCSA on an incremental basis due to lack of a permanent Reauthorization bill.

Key excerpts from the final Omnibus Conference Report language are as follows:

“New Entrant Program-The conference agreement provides a total of $30,200,000 for the new entrant program…The conferees continue the program structure developed in Fiscal Year 2004 that provides the majority of funding for this program in the form of state grants, therefore, only $3,000,000 is for (FMCSA) oversight and other Federal responsibilities. The conferees direct that FMCSA report to both the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations by March 1, 2005, regarding the use of this Federal portion of the program, and an explanation of the new entrant audit procedure improvements and plans to maximize the program’s safety benefits and to enhance carrier compliance.

“Safety Status Measurement System (Safestat)-The conferees retain the House language directing FMCSA to implement the Inspector General’s recommendation in its February 13, 2004 report Improvements Needed in the Motor Carrier’s Safety Status Measurement System.

House Language: ” The Committee directs the FMCSA to implement the IG’s recommendations in its February 13, 2004 report, “Improvements Needed in the Motor Carrier Safety Status Measurement System.” These recommendations are designed to correct the weaknesses in the “SafeStat” data reported by states and motor carriers and improve FMCSA’s processes for correcting and disclosing data problems. The IG recommends that FMCSA: (1) revalidate the SafeState model; (2) improve systems for correcting inaccurate data and tracking of corrective actions; (3) expand cautions on the internet regarding SafeStat’s use; and (4) establish a plan to improve and ensure the quality of SafeStat data.”

“Compliance Reviews and Safety Audits-The conferees reiterate the House and Senate reporting requirements regarding compliance reviews and safety audits with a report date (to Congress) of February 7, 2005.

House Report: “The Committee notes the negative effect that the implementation of the new entrant safety assurance program and the security site visits and security components of the compliance review adopted since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have taken on the number of compliance reviews the FMCSA has completed. The number has fallen from a high of 11,340 in 2001 to 8,924 in 2002. This means that more motor carriers are operating either without a safety rating or with an outdated safety rating. The Committee expects the number of reviews to significantly increase as states implement the new entrant program, first funded in fiscal year 2004. The Committee directs FMCSA to submit a report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations detailing the reasons for the decline in compliance reviews since 2001, and including specific contributions and the degree of each contribution. In addition, the report should include descriptions of issues or policies that may impact the number of compliance reviews in the future, and a plan to overcome current problems.”

Senate Report: “The Committee is concerned that the number of federally conducted compliance reviews and enforcement actions has decreased significantly since the new entrant program commenced and directs FMCSA to ensure that it reverses this trend consistent with the objectives and goals of MCSIA. The Committee also directs FMCSA to work closely with the States to promote their continued participation in a vigorous compliance review program. In order to monitor its progress, the Committee directs FMCSA to report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations on the number of completed compliance reviews and new entrant safety audits with the agency’s fiscal year 2006 budget request.”

“Research and Technology(FMCSA Administrative Expenses)-Within amounts for research and technology, the conferees direct $500,000 for the testing and evaluation of both stationary and mobile radiation detection devices.

“Commercial drivers license(CDL) program-The conference agreement provides $21,000,000 for the commercial driver’s license improvement grants program (state grants), and retains the directive in both House and Senate reports directing FMCSA to initiate a rule requiring all CDL applicants to provide proof of citizenship or legal presence in the U.S., consistent with the Inspector General recommendation. FMCSA shall initiate a rulemaking by May 30, 2005. The conference agreement retains the House language encouraging FMCSA to improve all aspects of the CDL program, including sponsoring pilot projects to ensure drivers who have been convicted of a disqualifying offense do not operate during the period of suspension or revocation, and, as proposed by the Senate, $200,000 to study the correlation between driver history and future safety violations.

House CDL language: ” Within the funds for the CDL program, FMCSA should continue working with American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, lead MCSAP agencies, and licensing agencies to improve all aspects of the CDL program. In addition, FMCSA should consider sponsoring another pilot project involving law enforcement and driver licensing agencies to explore new and innovative ways to ensure that drivers who have been convicted of a disqualifying offense do not operate during the period of suspension or revocation. Finally, FMCSA should continue to support the judicial and prosecutorial outreach effort.”

 

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III. Utility Hours-of-service

 

The Conference Agreement retains the provision in the 2004 Appropriations bill that prohibits the use of federal funds to enforce the current hours-of-service rules issued in April 2003 and implemented January 4, 2004. An earlier version of the House bill as reported out of the House Transportation/Treasury Appropriations Subcommittee extended the ban to any hours-of-service rules that would include the new rule that FMCSA is expected to issue pursuant to the July 16 D.C. Circuit Court decision. This extension was stricken on the House floor. The Senate bill retained only the 2004 ban which then became the 2005 Conference Agreement provision as well.