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Report points out problems with FMCSA data and practices

Arlington, Virginia – A US government report says bad data is being used to perform carrier evaluations.

Arlington, Virginia – A US government report says bad data is being used to perform carrier evaluations.

The Department of Transportation’s Inspector General issued the report based on an investigation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program (FMCSA).

The Audit Report expressed concerns about a number of practices used to handle and collect data about motor carriers. Some of the report’s key findings include:

  • “FMCSA strengthened data quality controls by enhancing efforts to monitor and correct State-reported crash and inspection data. However, FMCSA has not fully implemented planned improvements to its data correction process. In addition, FMCSA took limited action to address inaccurate and incomplete data reported by carriers, despite our 2006 recommendations. In November 2013, FMCSA issued a new enforcement policy for carriers who do not submit required data but has not yet begun using this process.”
  • “FMCSA has a process for correcting inaccurate data but has not implemented planned improvements”
  • “FMCSA safety regulations require carriers to routinely update their census data—including information on carriers’ addresses, phone numbers, number of power units (motor vehicles), and vehicle miles traveled—that goes into MCMIS. Certain census data fields form part of the calculation that CSMS uses to evaluate carriers, and missing or outdated data can lead to incorrect computations of carriers’ BASIC percentile rankings. Despite FMCSA’s efforts and our prior recommendations, we found continued weaknesses in carrier-reported census data.”
  • “FMCSA faces challenges in fully implementing CSA enforcement interventions.”
  • “Industry best practices and federal guidance emphasize thorough documentation of information technology system components and controls. While some of these best practices and guidance are not requirements, they are advisable for high-visibility systems, such as CSMS. However, our review determined that, while FMCSA documented how CSMS generates percentile rankings, it lacks complete documentation on system components, validation processes, and system change processes and related testing.”

In the conclusion, the office of the Inspector General  wrote:

“FMCSA has made progress in moving toward a more data-driven, risk-based approach to oversight of the motor carrier industry, as called for by CSA. Quality data are critical to accurately identifying the highest risk carriers for enforcement interventions. While FMCSA has strengthened quality controls for State-reported data, more action is needed in key areas, including improving census data and completing its roll out of CSA enforcement interventions. Given that CSMS is such a high-visibility system within the motor carrier industry, FMCSA can also enhance its documentation of system processes to better adhere to best practices and Federal guidance. Without sustained management attention in these areas, FMCSA will be hindered in its ability to effectively implement CSA nationwide and address the key concerns of industry stakeholders.”

Upon reading the results of the report, the American Trucking Associations repeated their criticism of the FMCSA program.

“The Inspector General’s report confirms what industry stakeholders, independent researchers and other government watchdogs have found: there continue to be significant flaws in the data FMCSA is using to evaluate and score carriers under CSA,” said ATA executive vice-president Dave Osiecki. “ATA continues to support the oversight mission and safety goals of CSA—but FMCSA must acknowledge the program’s many problems—and commit to addressing them.”

While it was relatively pleased with the report’s conclusions, the ATA is of the opinion the inspector general didn’t go far enough into examining what it perceives as the flaws in the FMCSA. In particular, it said the audit report should not have taken the FMCSA’s “self assessment of its State Safety Data Quality system [SSDQ], which scores states’ ability to upload timely and accurate data, at face value.”

In a statement the association said “ATA is disappointed that the [Inspector General] didn’t take a critical look at the source of literally all CSA data, state enforcement agencies. While the SSDQ indicates states are performing better than they have in the past, the IG failed to examine under what circumstances a state might obtain a ‘good’ rating. This is a critical link in CSA data quality that deserves greater attention.”

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