July 25, 2017
Requested by Senator Dick Durbin
FMCSA Strengthened Controls for Timely and Quality Reviews of High-Risk Carriers, but Data Challenges Remain to Assess Effectiveness
The Nation has recently experienced an upward trend in fatalities caused by large truck and bus crashes—from 4,043 in 2011 to 4,337 in 2015. In 2014, a carrier that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) had flagged as high-risk but had not investigated was involved in a fatal crash in Illinois. Senator Dick Durbin then requested that we audit FMCSA’s practices for investigating carriers that pose high risks for fatal crashes. The fiscal year 2015 appropriations legislation also directed us to review FMCSA’s compliance review process. Accordingly, our audit objective was to assess FMCSA’s policies and processes for ensuring timely and adequate compliance reviews of carriers with high risks for fatal crashes. Specifically, we determined whether FMCSA (1) conducted compliance reviews in a timely manner once it flagged carriers for investigation, (2) implemented effective quality assurance measures for compliance reviews, and (3) effectively conducted compliance reviews to address carriers’ safety performance.
Under its High-Risk Prioritization Policy, implemented in January 2016, FMCSA has improved the timeliness of its high-risk compliance reviews by narrowing its focus to carriers that require immediate intervention. The policy establishes a new prioritization methodology and shortens the target timeline for reviews from 12 months to 90 days. FMCSA also incorporated a software program to prioritize, assign, and track completion of compliance reviews. Since implementation, FMCSA has completed investigations of high-risk carriers, on average, within 1.2 months, compared to 7.2 months under its previous policy. Despite these improvements, the Agency may face challenges balancing competing priorities of quality and production, and ensuring that it adapts resource distribution to changing conditions.
FMCSA implemented two new quality assurance tools but has not set milestones for completion of an assessment of the tools. FMCSA established, provided training on, and implemented the two tools for ensuring quality of compliance reviews and enforcement cases. The Agency is also collecting a benchmark year of data and plans to assess the tools, but has not set completion milestones. Until FMCSA completes the assessment, the effectiveness of the tools is uncertain. Finally, FMCSA created a peer review process to improve and share best practices for field office operations.
FMCSA faces challenges ensuring that investigators conduct effective compliance reviews. Specifically, FMCSA’s information systems did not record whether a compliance review was either comprehensive or focused or changes in the scope of a focused compliance review. These data limitations make accurate accountings of compliance review types and safety regulation category types difficult, thus limiting the Agency’s ability to assess the effectiveness of both types of compliance reviews.
FMCSA concurred with our two recommendations to address its quality assurance processes and compliance review data limitations.