A recent report by the government said that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration should make its complaint database easier to find.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a study on Tuesday that says FMCSA breaks a rule of the U.S. Department of Transportation by not making all types of complaint data available to the public.
The 60-page report states that FMCSA does not disclose any information on complaints against truck companies, bus companies, or electronic logging device providers. FMCSA may be missing the opportunity to improve transparency and collaboration with industry partners as a result.
Officials at the FMCSA told the GAO that making the data public is not one of the agency’s top priorities. FMCSA officials have stated that they currently do not have any plans to make all categories of complaint data public. However, they have mentioned that they may consider doing so in the future.
GAO Urges FMCSA to Publicize All Categories of Carrier Complaints
GAO recommends that FMCSA change its stance. The first recommendation, out of 14 in the report, suggests that the FMCSA administrator should make data on all categories of complaints available to the public, as appropriate, and in line with DOT’s Data Management Policy.
The GAO study ran from April 2022 to September 2023, and it looked at reports from January 2016 to December 2021. About 37,700 of these complaints were against trucking companies, 29,400 were against movers and agents, and 200 were against bus lines.
According to the study, FMCSA has a lot of internal processes for reviewing some types of complaints and reacting to them, but not for other kinds. For example, when drivers make reports of pressure and harassment against trucking companies, more information is given, such as examples of what a complaint must say to be considered coercion or harassment.
According to GAO, the complaint review guidance for safety, hazardous materials, household goods, and other commercial complaints does not include step-by-step instructions on how to respond, review, and close complaints.
Trucker outreach lacking
The GAO stressed how important it was for FMCSA to work with its target groups to keep the database’s value high. The watchdog group did some research and found that FMCSA’s attempts to reach out to the public were not the same everywhere. People who want to hire regular movers were given more resources, while professional truck drivers were given less.
In conversations with five trucking groups, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the Truckload Carriers Association, the GAO found that neither the groups’ leaders nor their members knew about FMCSA’s efforts to get the word out about its complaint website.
According to the GAO, the representatives mentioned that they receive feedback from truck drivers regarding incidents that could be reported to the complaint website. They provided examples such as employers pressuring drivers to surpass the hours-of-service limit and neglecting workplace safety concerns.
FMCSA’s Prioritization and Outreach Challenges
FMCSA officials stated that the focus on the household goods program aligns with the priorities and direction of FMCSA leadership. They also mentioned that the $4 million in funding available each fiscal year for outreach and education needs to be utilized for other programs and initiatives as well.
The GAO also found that the complaint website “is not always easy to view on mobile devices.” This is a problem because officials in the trucking industry think it is especially important for truck drivers.
The agency pushes back on user testing
The GAO interviewed representatives of the FMCSA who stated that the agency has not had outside users test the website because the feedback it receives from internal testing and user polls “is enough for its purposes.”
GAO suggested that tests be done with truck drivers or other experts in the trucking industry, since FMCSA might be missing out on chances to learn about what real-world users want. FMCSA did not agree with GAO’s one idea, saying that it is not a “sustainable” way to test external users.
The GAO noted that the FMCSA stated its plans to modernize the complaint website in order to align with industry standards for design and incorporate user feedback.
The audit stated that testing the website with external users would provide critical insight on the usefulness of the website for its target audiences before launching any changes to the complaint website.
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