The U.S. Congress is in the midst of debate over the “Infrastructure Bill.” At its core, the legislation is an appropriations measure that funds the U.S. Department of Transportation and its agencies, such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. But once Congress allocates these funds – your federal tax dollars – just where does that money go?
At FMCSA, nearly 60% of its funding goes right back out the door in the form of grants to states and local communities. In some instances money goes to educational institutions and truck driver training schools, among others, which provide tomorrow’s professional drivers.
This funding mechanism is more than a revolving door for tax dollars. Over 500,000 trucking companies and 3.5 million truck drivers operate 15.5 million trucks in the U.S. Those truck operations utilize 4.1 million miles of public roads, from the National Network of approved state highways and interstates for commercial vehicles to the city streets and county roads trucks travel in delivering goods. Compared to those numbers, the 1,000 people employed by the FMCSA appear miniscule. To achieve its congressional mission of reducing crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses, FMCSA must partner with enforcement personnel throughout the country.
In fiscal year 2021, which ends Sept. 30, FMCSA provided $304 million in Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) grants to state and local law enforcement agencies. These government bodies that receive these funds employ approximately 12,000 enforcement personnel who work every day to promote safety on the roads with motor carriers and truck drivers.
In addition, FMCSA provided more specialized grants:
- $45.2 million in High Priority grants that support programs and innovative technologies not included in a typical MCSAP grant.
- $29 million in Commercial Driver’s License Program Implementation grants, which help states meet the goals of the national CDL program, recently the focus of a DOT audit.
- $2 million in Commercial Motor Vehicle Operator Safety Training, supporting commercial truck and bus driver training.
Through these partnership efforts, FMCSA applies a multiplier force to the relatively few personnel it directly employs to enhance highway safety.
Of course, all federal grants come with “strings attached.” Those “strings” include adherence to FMCSA safety program goals and uniform enforcement of FMCSA safety regulations. To a large extent, those “strings” are a good thing.
Imagine trying to conduct multi-state trucking operations where each state, province and town had its own set of truck regulations. Imagine, too, trying to enforce highway safety where the neighboring jurisdiction applies different rules for brake adjustment or hours of service. Enforcement personnel and motor carriers alike need common goals and uniform regulations, even when attached to “strings.”
Money by itself does not assure highway safety. It takes hard work by professionals at every level, whether adjusting out-of-service criteria in the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) committees or submitting comments with real-world perspectives and data to FMCSA proposed rules. But it is reassuring to know that the tax dollars Congress may send to FMCSA actually go to support the common goal of improved truck safety.