Thursday, September 17, 2009

Minnesota FUBAR

The Freedom of Information Act was signed into law in 1966. Lyndon Johnson was president back then, and I was barely out of high school. The Act mandates that information held by federal agencies must be made available through a request process, unless it’s exempt for super special reasons.

The info is not always hush-hush stuff, but filing a FOIA request frequently provides some surprising, even shocking information. An OOIDA FOIA request is what turned up an astonishing unpublished report from FMCSA that caused OOIDA to broaden its legal case against officials of the Minnesota State Patrol.

The Association’s complaint calls out an arbitrary enforcement program used to declare truckers fatigued and place them out of service.

But it seems there is more. You probably know that the federal agency gives states federal funding to help them enforce the Federal Regs, which the states are supposed to adopt (either in part or in entirety). I found on the Internet that Minnesota got $3 million in FY2008. So it makes sense that the FMCSA would from time to time review a state to make sure everything is up to speed. The FOIA request by OOIDA’s counsel snagged us a FMSCA document reviewing Minnesota’s compliance with the federal Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program, or MCSAP.

This is the part where I recommend you sit down. This document obtained by OOIDA shoots it pretty straight. When the FMCSA reviewed Minnesota, it seems that Minnesota HAD NOT appropriately adopted the Federal Regs in any part. In the FMCSA’s April 2008 review document, FMSCA told Minnesota it had no authority to enforce the federal regs.

The state didn’t hurry too much to fix this big fat “oops,” either. According to the FMCSA, it was not until August 2009 that the state finally adopted the federal regs. Before that, the state police simply had no authority to enforce the FMCSRs.

And yes, that means exactly what you think it does. The situation in Minnesota appears to have been FUBAR, in the very descriptive words of one outraged OOIDA member. This being a respectable blog, I will let this acronym serve.

And who knew about this? Well, the FOIA’d document includes a list of the people involved in the review in the MCSAP review. Fatigue checklist inventor Capt. Ken Urquhart is right at the top of that list.

Are you putting two and two together?

Watch Land Line for more on this astonishing case. And if you missed Thursday night's Land Line Now radio show and still want an earful, tune in to OOIDA’s satellite radio show on Sunday, Sept. 27, 7-8 p.m. and 11 p.m. – 12 a.m. EST on Sirius 147 XM 171. The show will air a repeat of OOIDA’s Jim Johnston, Todd Spencer and Joe Rajkovacz discussing the case with Host Mark Reddig.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Governor Pilot?

With a little more than a year left in office for Tennessee’s two-term Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, the Volunteer State is already rumbling under the wheels of would-be successors. One of those is Bill Haslam, whose family started Pilot Travel Centers; he has been the corporation’s president for 18 years.

Flying the Republican standard from his aerials, Haslam has served as mayor of Knoxville for the past six years. According to his campaign Web site, www.BillHaslam.com, things haven’t been so good in Knoxville since Robert Mitchum roared to his eternal reward down Kingston Pike in “Thunder Road.”

One claim, that he “Knows when to listen and when to lead,” passed through my head in a distinctly husky, Kenny Rogers-style voice – I suppose every campaign’s a winner and every one’s a loser, and the best you can hope for is that they spell your name right.

It would be encouraging to see someone with legitimate roots in the transportation industry take over the Governor’s mansion in Nashville. I would hope one of his priorities would be to truly clean up the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s miserable record of cronyism and political patronage.

What if the state’s budget woes continue and the temptation to close rest stops arises? Despite a federal ban on commercializing state facilities, cash-strapped states like Virginia that are closing rest stops think commercializing them could be an answer. Naturally, the established truck stop industry says no way. As governor, Haslam could be facing a political and personal dilemma.

I also hope he’d aggressively pursue the “hot fuel” issue, which robs millions of truckers using Tennessee’s hundreds of miles of Interstates. That may prove to be a thornier issue, because Pilot was one of a number of truck fuel providers named in a class action lawsuit brought by truckers and highway users to address the problem.

It’s not too early to pose these questions to Candidate Haslam; in fact, this is the best time, before the primaries arrive – that way, we’ll know what kind of a pilot will be steering the Volunteer State.