Federal agencies Hours of service Transportation Transportation

Chao: I have encouraged legislation to clarify HOS requirements

Elaine Chao
Photo: House Appropriations Subcommittee

Washington — In her second appropriations hearing in as many days, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said she has “encouraged legislation” to clarify hours-of-service requirements for commercial motor vehicle drivers.

Testifying April 12 before the House Appropriations Committee’s Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, Chao also spoke about the debate over electronic logging devices.

DOT granted a second 90-day waiver to the ELD mandate for transporters of agricultural commodities beginning March 18.

“This is a very difficult issue,” Chao said in response to a question from Rep. David Valadao (R-CA). “It is not an issue that is just the waiver or the exemption. It really hits upon an underlying issue, which is the hours of service.”

Chao said one of the initial priorities she gave Raymond Martinez – confirmed as leader of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Feb. 13 – was to continue outreach about ELD implementation to members of Congress and stakeholders, some of whom criticized Martinez during a 90-minute listening session on March 23 at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY, according to multiple transportation news outlets.

Chao also attempted to explain why FMCSA and the Federal Railroad Administration in August withdrew a joint advance notice of proposed rulemaking on obstructive sleep apnea among safety-sensitive workers in rail and highway transportation. The agencies were seeking to evaluate the benefits and costs of any regulations, such as requiring drivers with multiple OSA risk factors to undergo evaluation and possible treatment by a sleep disorders medical expert.

“We are not at all unconcerned about this issue,” Chao said in response to a question from Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY). “In fact, we’re very concerned about the whole array of sleep-impaired influences on overall safety in driving. We would like to take a more holistic approach, and we’re taking a look at the array of impairments – to driving at night to sleep impairment – that can contribute to this. That study about sleep apnea needs to wrap into a much larger holistic approach.” She added that no specific timeline for the study had been set.

Lowey also asked Chao why it took nearly 15 months into President Donald Trump’s term before nominating someone to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The administration on April 5 announced its intention to nominate Heidi King, NHTSA’s deputy administrator, for the top job.

“I think this whole confirmation process is very troublesome,” Chao said. “There are delays in the nomination part of it, and then there are extensive delays in the confirmation part, as well. The FBI clearances are taking so much longer, and the Office of Government Ethics is taking so much longer as well. … The clearance process is really, really long now. Once they come out, it’s tough to get them confirmed in a reasonable period of time.”

President Trump’s administration and DOT have requested $15.6 billion in discretionary funding for fiscal year 2019, a decrease from $27.3 billion in the FY 2018 omnibus funding bill passed March 23. DOT has allocated $665.8 million for FMCSA – a reduction from $844.8 million in the omnibus bill – and $914.7 million for NHTSA, a slight cut from $947.2 million in FY 2018.

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