Based on analysis provided to congressional leaders, the Government Accountability Office ("GAO") found that while Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s ("FMCSA") resources are limited, it could take steps to identify more "chameleon" carriers that attempt restart business after sanctions for safety violations.
Currently, the process is lengthy and involves screening applicant data against poorly performing carriers dating back to 2003, and reviewing each application. The process can take from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. However, the increased enforcement only affects buses and movers, a mere 2% of the approximately 66,000 carriers that apply for certificates every year.
While GAO acknowledged the FMCSA does not have the staff to conduct investigations on applicants, it does believes the FMCSA could use its current data screening methods more effectively. GAO derived and tested a method that can identify applicants that have chameleon attributes. It wrote an algorithm that searched the data for matching registration information, and for previously registered carriers that had a motive to evade detection, such as a history of safety violations. GAO said it identified 1,136 new applicant carriers in 2010, an increase from 759 in 2005. These carriers were three times more likely than other new carriers to be involved in a severe crash, GAO found.
GAO recommended the FMCSA develop a system to screen applicant data against carriers that have chameleon attributes, and apply it to all applicants. It also recommended that the agency strengthen its new entrant safety assurance program by training auditors to identify chameleon carriers.
FMCSA said it will implement the recommendations, although it is not clear when.