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June 8, 2022 3:40 PM, EDT

FMCSA Nominee Touts IIJA’s Workforce Programs at Senate Hearing

Robin Hutcheson (inset) with Department of Transportation headquarters"The bipartisan infrastructure law also dedicates resources to assisting the truck driving profession by creating a better, safer pipeline of drivers, Robin Hutcheson says. (U.S. Department of Transportation)

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration stressed during a congressional hearing the agency’s commitment to helping motor carriers bolster the industry’s truck driving ranks, buoyed by provisions included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“The work of FMCSA and the industry is supported by the historic passage of the bipartisan infrastructure law,” Robin Hutcheson told senators during the June 8 session, referencing the common name for the sweeping $1 trillion federal package. “The bipartisan infrastructure law also dedicates resources to assisting the truck driving profession by creating a better, safer pipeline of drivers and improving recruitment and retention in the profession.”

Hutcheson also emphasized her personal commitment. “I have and will continue to engage in discussion, ride-alongs and other forums to deepen my understanding of the needs of drivers, and all of our critical stakeholders,” she said.

Hutcheson appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee, a panel with jurisdiction over trucking rules and regulations.

I have and will continue to engage in discussion, ride-alongs and other forums to deepen my understanding of the needs of drivers, and all of our critical stakeholders.

Robin Hutcheson, nominee to be administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

The nominee assured the committee her team is focused on the implementation of trucking workforce provisions included in the law, among them an apprenticeship program to allow commercial drivers under 21 to operate trucks via interstate, and an advisory board dedicated to recruitment and retention efforts targeting women.

Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) touted the nominee’s background on transportation safety, and noted the need for effective stewardship of the agency amid rising highway safety concerns. She cited the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recent estimate of a 10.5% increase in motor vehicle crash fatalities from 2020.

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“Strong federal leadership is needed as the nation faces a tragic rise in the highway fatalities, including a dramatic increase in fatal crashes involving large trucks,” Cantwell said. “I believe [Hutcheson’s] executive experience heading the public sector transportation agencies will provide critical leadership and the skills needed to address these issues.” The chairwoman told Transport Topics she expects to schedule a committee vote this summer on the nominee.

Several members of the committee praised the infrastructure law’s workforce provisions. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) pointed to the young truckers apprenticeship: “We have such a driver shortage in Tennessee. We are a logistics state. We want to make certain that this program is a success.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) praised the recruitment and retention initiative focused on women: “I was proud to have included my legislation that I advanced with my colleague Sen. [Jerry] Moran in the bipartisan infrastructure law to establish a women of trucking advisory board.”

Hutcheson is FMCSA’s acting administrator. Previously, she was deputy assistant secretary for safety policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Her background includes stints at agencies in Minneapolis and Salt Lake City. She also was on the board of directors for the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

I believe her executive experience heading the public sector transportation agencies will provide critical leadership.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.)

Sen. Maria Cantwell

American Trucking Associations recently determined the industry is short about 80,000 commercial drivers. ATA President Chris Spear expressed support for Hutcheson’s nomination.

“Since her appointment as acting administrator in January, Ms. Hutcheson has worked closely with the trucking industry to confront supply chain, workforce and safety challenges, while pressing forward with the implementation of vital programs included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” Spear said on June 8. “Ms. Hutcheson’s response to the challenges facing our industry has been timely and effective, and we are confident she will bring that same focus to her role as the administrator of the FMCSA.”

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