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June 3, 2013 6:00 AM, EDT

Agency Resubmits Plan to Cut Quarterly Reports

By Timothy Cama, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the June 3 print edition of Transport Topics.

The federal government is trying once again to eliminate the requirement that nearly all trucking companies submit quarterly financial data to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, calling the requirement “outdated” and unnecessary.

FMCSA tried to do away with the regulation last year through an expedited regulatory process, but after a transportation consulting group objected, FMCSA could no longer use the expedited process, it said.

“The financial information collected does not support any of FMCSA’s regulatory functions, and eliminating the requirement will have no impact on motor carrier safety,” the agency said in a May 24 statement announcing that it had published a proposal that day in the Federal Register to do away with the mandate.

The requirement is an artifact from a time when the federal government’s main concern in regulating trucking was economic in nature. Since the industry’s deregulation in the early 1980s, the regulatory environment has shifted toward safety.

For-hire carriers with more than $10 million in annual revenue must file the quarterly reports, which detail operating expenses, revenue and other basic statistics. Carriers with $3 million to $10 million in revenue must do it annually while those that make less than $3 million are exempt.

Bus companies must also file the reports.

But in June 2012, FMCSA published a “direct final rule” to rescind the requirement. The process allowed public input, but FMCSA said the change would become final if no one objected to it.

SJ Consulting Group Inc., which gathers and publishes data on transportation companies, filed the sole objection. The company said in its comment that it relies on those reports, which it gathers by filing public records requests, for the industry data that it publishes.

“People rely on that extensively to understand what’s going on in the industry and how the customers’ needs are being met,” Satish Jindel, SJ’s president, told Transport Topics.

“You’ve got so many private companies that make up the whole transportation sector. You’ve got Congress and the administration saying how much transportation is an essential component to our economic recovery. They fail to understand the data that’s available through this requirement,” Jindel said of the quarterly reports.

The reports could be made more useful and easier to file, Jindel said. They could be filed completely electronically, and if they gathered more data about carrier operations, they could provide government and private-sector groups with useful information about the trucking industry.

Furthermore, FMCSA is unreliable in how it enforces the reporting requirement, and many reports are missing, Jindel said.

“The reason they’re not using it is because you’re not making it easy for them to get it,” he said. “And you’re not doing a good job of collecting it.”

While FMCSA recognized that it is obligated to take SJ’s comment into account, it did not give much credit to the objection.

“Although FMCSA considered SJ Consulting’s comment adverse for the direct final rule, it continues to believe the quarterly financial reporting requirements . . . can be eliminated without an adverse impact on safety,” the agency said in its recent proposal.

FMCSA does not use the data to further its mission of increasing highway safety, it said. It only gathers the data and makes it available to people who file public records requests for it.

Bob Costello, chief economist with American Trucking Associations, said that if the agency is not using the data, there’s no reason to keep collecting it.

“While it’s not a huge regulatory burden, they’re not doing anything with the data, so the fleets shouldn’t have to submit it,” Costello said.

Since the quarterly reports are so brief, FMCSA estimated the financial burden of filing them is $9,900 for the trucking and bus industries.

FMCSA said the regulation is part of an effort to reduce unnecessary regulations, launched in 2011 by President Obama. Under that initiative, FMCSA also has eliminated the requirement that drivers report out-of-state convictions to their home state and proposed eliminating the mandate that drivers file daily reports about their vehicles’ conditions when no defects are found.