Logistically Speaking: Whose supply chain is it, anyway?

The Federal government is supposed to work for us, even though in practice it appears to be the other way around. Sometimes it seems as though government agencies are most proficient at avoiding work, which certainly describes the long-and-winding road leading to a revised Hours of Service (HOS) regulation.

Way back in 1995, during President Clinton's first term, Congress ordered the Federal Highway Administration to revise the HOS, focusing particularly on issues of driver fatigue and stress. The mandate was simple and direct: Find out how many hours in a day truck drivers are physically and mentally fit to be driving a vehicle, with the goal of making the highways safer for everybody.

Well, the FHA never got around to it — we're left to wonder what other tasks they found that took priority over the safety of the roads — so in 1999 a new agency was created — the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA was told to do what the FHA would not do — fix the HOS rules. To its credit, the FMCSA did in fact propose a new set of rules in 2000; however, since it is the Federal government we're talking about, that set of rules ended up being hashed and rehashed over until it was finally passed in 2003, and put into effect in 2004.

It only took a few months, though, for the U.S. Court of Appeals to strike down the 2003 HOS rules. The Court found that the new rules were "arbitrary and capricious," but more to the point, it told the FMCSA, basically, "Look, you had a job to do — and you didn't do it. You didn't consider the impact of these rules on the health of the driver, which is what you were required to do. Now go back and do it right this time."

In January 2005, six months after the FMCSA had the riot act read to it, the agency finally got around to soliciting comments from the industry about driver health and safety (this is on top of the 53,000 comments the agency says it based the 2003 HOS revision-on). You get the distinct impression, though, that the FMCSA is just going through the motions, and that its real strategy is to hope for a last-minute reprieve — and indications are it just might get it.

The FMCSA has told Congress — with a straight face, mind you — that work on the HOS regulation is "time-consuming" and involves "a tremendous allocation of agency resources." Even though the Court tossed out the rules, the FMCSA is asking that the 2003 HOS rules be formally adopted by Congress, and the White House has obligingly proposed legislation to that effect. If enacted, the current HOS regulation — the same one that terrifies safety advocacy groups and that the Court has grave doubts about — will be written into law.

What's happening here is that a Federal agency supported by our tax dollars (the FMCSA has requested $465 million in the latest budget, a modest raise of $100 million from what it received in 2004) has decided it just can't be bothered to do the work it is being funded to do. In effect, the FMCSA is saying, "We think the roads are safer and truck drivers are getting more rest because of the new HOS rules. We can't actually prove that, but you can take our word for it."

So rather than sifting through the 1,000 comments and various research studies, rather than publicly responding to the concerns of the Court, rather than producing hard evidence that the new rules do indeed result in better rested drivers and safer highways, the FMCSA is hoping the whole thing will go away and they can allocate that $465 million to something more compelling than the health of the nation's supply chain.

Let me ask you this: If somebody working for you told you they didn't have time to do the number one job on their "to do" list, and then asked you for a raise in the same conversation, how would you react? That's how I'd react, too.

Makes you wonder who the FMCSA think they're working for, doesn't it?

Dave Blanchard,
editor-in-chief,
[email protected]

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