DOT safety office faces possible shutdown

DOT safety office faces possible shutdown

The head of the Office of Motor Carriers, which is responsible for truck and commercial vehicle safety, said Monday in an internal memo to her employees that they are to stop enforcement of those safety laws-and may have to shut down border inspections once President Clinton signs the fiscal 2000 Transportation appropriations bill.

OMC Program Manager Julie Cirillo, writing in an e-mail obtained Wednesday by CongressDaily, said, "The members of the enforcement team will be reassigned to perform other duties in the resource centers or in division offices ... No work will be done on any enforcement action. I will not be issuing any final orders. At this point it is not entirely clear what will happen to the border inspectors, but it is likely that they will not be able to continue safety inspections at the border."

Cirillo later added that employees "who are working on enforcement actions with the IG, FBI, or U.S. Attorney will have to cease these operations until further notice."

The situation is the result of House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf, R-Va., adding language to the Transportation appropriations bill that prohibits funding of the OMC until it is moved out from under the control of the Federal Highway Administration.

Wolf for the past two years has sought to shift oversight of commercial trucks, buses and other vehicles from the FHWA to an independent unit reporting directly to the Transportation secretary. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa., has passed such a bill out of his committee, but it has yet to see House or Senate action.

Meanwhile, the fiscal 2000 Transportation appropriations conference report is heading to the White House with Wolf's provision.

Transportation Secretary Slater declined Monday to say if the president would sign the bill, citing cuts in FAA funding. Slater did not mention the truck safety enforcement provision, although aides later said he is concerned about it as well.

Wolf aides said Slater can shift responsibility for truck and commercial vehicle safety out of the FHWA to under his direct command "with the stroke of a pen."

And Cirillo, in her memo, indicated Slater plans to do that. But such action will only affect the chain of command. Current law vests enforcement of truck safety laws with the FHWA administrator, which cannot be changed without legislation.

OMC's Cirillo wrote: "Our inability to carry on any enforcement action is the result of legislation that assigns this responsibility specifically to the Federal Highway Administrator, and since the appropriations bill prohibits the FHWA from spending any funds on motor carrier programs, this function will not be carried out by any entity ... We are not sure how long this situation will last, but certainly until either Congress 'fixes' it or Congress passes legislation creating a new administration."

A DOT spokesman Wednesday would say only, "We'll make every effort to enforce the safety laws on the books," and added that the status of border inspections is still being determined. But administration officials will have more to say when they are called before Shuster's committee Thursday.