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GAO faults FMCSA over CSA interventions

Although problems with Safety Measurement System methodology get far more attention, the General Accounting Office (GAO) has voiced concerns with the other major element of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program: Interventions.

When FMCSA launched CSA in late 2010 it touted a new process that included four new types of interventions: Warning letters, offsite investigations, onsite focused investigations, and cooperative safety plans (CSPs). But nearly six years later, two of those interventions – offsite investigations and CSPs – are used only in a handful of states due to ongoing issues related to FMCSA’s reliance on multiple legacy information systems that weren’t designed to support the expanded range of interventions under CSA, GAO said. FMCSA currently expects to complete the information technology upgrades necessary to roll out offsite investigations and CSPs to most states by April of next year.

Moreover, the overall number of interventions is dropping, GAO reported. In each of the eight categories of CSA intervention, the number of interventions in fiscal 2015 was lower than in fiscal 2012, which was the first full year of CSA nationwide, GAO said. (In addition to the interventions added in 2010, CSA includes four types of preexisting interventions: Onsite compliance reviews, notices of violation, notices of claim, and out-of-service orders.)

The number of interventions is only part of the problem, however. GAO said FMCSA lacks measures to monitor its progress in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of interventions. A working group FMCSA created in 2014 recommended 20 improvements regarding interventions, and FMCSA had implemented 12 of them as of April 2016, GAO said. It found that while FMCSA has established some performance measures for its effectiveness outcome that are appropriate, it has not established similar measures for its efficiency outcome. For example, FMCSA has not updated its cost estimates for CSA interventions since a 2011 evaluation that focused on just four states.

FMCSA headquarters officials told GAO that effectiveness and efficiency are complementary outcomes that FMCSA strives to balance, but GAO disagrees. “Without a complete set of measures for both outcomes, FMCSA lacks benchmarks needed to regularly measure progress to achieve these outcomes,” it concluded.

The October 2016 report on interventions is the second GAO report related to CSA in the past three years. In February 2014, GAO found a lack of a correlation between specific violations and crash risk for individual carriers, and it concluded that FMCSA did not have sufficient performance data on most carriers that would allow for reliable comparisons with other carriers.

For a copy of the latest GAO report, click here.

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