Agencies Duplicated Inspections, GAO Says

By Rip Watson, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the March 14 print edition of Transport Topics.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Transportation Security Administration have conducted several dozen overlapping fleet inspections, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report about wasteful and duplicative federal programs.

The GAO review, released March 3, identified 71 cases in which both agencies inspected the same companies and requested similar information. In its 339-page report, GAO said that nearly half the questions that TSA asked were identical to the ones that FMCSA investigators asked in their separate reviews.

“Our guys don’t want one inspector coming in, asking for 15 pieces of information and using up an entire employee’s day and then have a different inspector coming in and asking for almost the same pieces of information,” said Boyd Stephenson, manager of safety and security operations for American Trucking Associations.

The TSA was given the authority after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to inspect fleets that carry hazardous materials for security purposes. FMCSA’s inspections of those fleets are part of its motor carrier safety duties.

Earlier this year, the Transportation Security Administration advised GAO investigators that it was working on a plan to halt overlapping inspections and would suspend those reviews until its process for working with the FMCSA was completed.

However, Stephenson said the TSA hasn’t yet completed its own plan to assure there wouldn’t be any overlapping reviews in the future.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) requested the review in an effort to lower federal spending.

Michael McCarthy, TSA spokesman, wrote in an e-mail that the agency is “committed to working with the Department of Transportation to reduce or eliminate overlap in assessments.” He did not say when a coordinated plan would be announced, but he did say that TSA believes the number of overlapping investigations was exaggerated.

“Our main concern is efficacy,” Stephenson told TT. “We want to have any inspection processes to have positive results. We have pushed for coordination between inspections. To have just one department doing them is just a halfway solution. The ultimate solution is to have the two departments working together to get what they need.”

In its communications with several federal agencies, ATA recommended that TSA should add any security-related information requests to the FMCSA’s review.

ATA began its effort to end the TSA’s so-called corporate security reviews in April 2009, but the attempt went nowhere until GAO staff began evaluating wasteful federal programs last year at Coburn’s request.

That review turned up a total of 81 different programs throughout the federal government that were redundant and estimated that ending them would save $1.1 billion a year.

The GAO report stressed that the agency examined only a portion of federal programs for waste and duplication, but it mentioned no estimate of total savings in the future as the office widens its review of waste.

In a statement, Coburn said, “GAO has uncovered a mother lode of government waste and duplication. We could save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars every year without cutting services.”

Coburn predicted savings of $100 billion or more could be uncovered.