Wrenches, Financial, and Recruiting

Every now and then it is just fun to write about something a little different.  Recently I had the opportunity to do just that when I was asked to write for a new publication called “Civilian Careers.”  This publication essentially helps military personnel transition back to the civilian world.  It is published by the same good folks that put together Truckers Connection and other related publications.

The articles:

Financially Sound
In this one I talk to Dave Ramsey and a financial advisor at USAA about the financial challenges associated with transitioning from military to civilian life.
Click Here to Read the Article

Recruiter to Recruiter
Are the skills of a military recruiter transferrable to those of a driver recruiter?  I talk to an Army recruiter and CR England’s Director of Recruiting for the answer.
Click Here to Read the Article

Working Wrenches
So you are a mechanic in the military and now want a similar job in the civilian world.  I talk to WyoTech and Penske Truck Leasing to learn how you can make this happen.
Click Here to Read the Article

Talking Trucking with John Mica

My interview with outgoing House Transportation Chairman John L. Mica in Challenge Magazine this month sheds some light on the future of transportation policy.

Mica says, “We must ensure that federal highway projects will be streamlined even further and private sector investment will be increased, so that our available resources are best put to use and not wasted. Continuing to cut red tape, reform programs and eliminate unnecessary programs is critical to positioning U.S. truckers to compete and thrive in a globalized market.”

Read my entire interview with Congressman John Mica in the December 2012 issue of Challenge Magazine.

UPDATE: At the time of this interview Chairman Mica had hoped to retain the Chairmanship of the House Transportation Committee. Due to House rules though, he was term limited and ultimately chose not to seek a waiver to the rules.  He did endorse Congressman Bill Shuster (R – PA) as chairmain.  Shuster will become the Chairman when the next Congress is sworn in this January 2013. Though Rep. Mica will not be the Chairman, he continues to be influential on transportation policy and provides good insight as to what the industry might expect with the new Congress.

Related: Read Congressman Shuster’s statement on being selected the next Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.


TSA allows me to board a plane with my ID and someone else’s boarding pass:

I had an interesting experience with TSA yesterday. I was boarding a plane in Seattle and the TSA decided to visit the gate and check ID’s against boarding passes as the plane boarded.  This doesn’t happen often, and I am sure it is just a practice designed to lessen predictability it really wasn’t a big deal.

But, when I arrived at the airport and checked in my boarding pass indicated I needed to get my seat assignment at the gate.  So, I did and Delta issued me a boarding pass. I did not pay close attention to it other than the seat number and zone for loading.

Obviously I used that boarding pass to go through the TSA line where the TSA checked my ID and boarding pass. The glanced at the boarding pass, then at my ID, and let me through only saying “Have a good flight.”

Interestingly, the Delta agent taking my boarding pass noticed an error as she scanned it, but told me they would figure it out on the plane if there was really an issue.  When I went to sit down it turns out Delta had issued me someone else’s boarding pass and the gentleman was in the seat.  Yes, it was his seat; both his boarding pass and my boarding pass had his name on it.

This turned out to be of little consequence for me as I was assigned another seat.  Remember, I missed the name details on the boarding pass, as did Delta (which is interesting in and of itself since they noticed an error but let me on the plane anyway).

BUT, how did the TSA – the very agency designed to protect against this, miss it. They were at the gate specifically to check IDs against the boarding passes. TSA didn’t even blink an eye and I was on the plane with my valid ID and someone else’s boarding pass.

Perhaps the TSA is too focused on patting down 3 year olds instead of minding the details.

More Regulations = More Safety?

I had the opportunity to attend my first Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) conference this week, though only for a portion of one day.  During that time I heard presentations from safety officials from Mexico, Canada, and the United States.  Not surprisingly, the presentations were very generic updates without much meat to them.  Nonetheless, they were good to hear and the messages were well received by the audience.

Most troublesome to me, however, is the consistent mantra that more and more regulation is the solution to addressing safety issues. Unfortunately, left out of the discussion (or at least in these presentations), was cost.  What is the cost of new regulation?  While larger carriers may be able to absorb certain costs, it’s the small independents that become financially battered by over regulation.  It’s the small independent that is symbolic of the American spirit of entrepreneurship, yet it is excessive regulation that often kills that spirit.

Safety, of course, is a priority.  But so are consistency, reasonableness, and competitive fairness.  After all, the government that governs best is the government that governs least (Thomas Jefferson).

An overview of each presentation:


Mauricio Hinojosa, Deputy General Director of Supervision
Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Transportes

Though I arrived a little late to his presentation, he provided several statistics on the recent successes in cracking down on unsafe operations.  He reaffirmed Mexico’s commitment to safety on the highways.


Doug MacEwen, Chair of Compliance and Regulatory Affairs Committee
Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators

He devoted his 10 minute presentation to reviewing the highlights of Canada’s Roady Safety Strategy 2015.  His presentation was primarily a summary of this web page: http://ccmta.ca/crss-2015/strategy.php

United States 

Anne Ferro, Administrator
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

I was afforded the opportunity to interview her one on one the following day, which I did.  That interview will be shared in a future edition of Challenge Magazine.

For now, the highlights of her comments at CVSA are:

    • Collaboration begins with a good conversation.
    • FMCSA, along with its partners in Canada and Mexico, is committed to making sure North America is safest place in the world to travel.
    • Work has achieved significant reduction in crashes nationally over the past 5 years – 30% reduction overall.
    • Profitability is only achieved through high, high safety standards.
    • Success is achieved through teamwork.
    • New Entrant program
      • Ensures that there is a very clear sense of what is required.  Strengthens the focus.
    • NAS Tool (screening tool)
      • Applying more extensively and will be applying to weed out those who are unsafe.
    • CSA – no better example of maintaining safety standards
      • Constant performance measurement tool
      • Ensures folks are operating at the highest standards
    • National Registry on Certified Medical Examiners
      • Ensures standards are being followed.
    • Ensuring we are moving the high risk entities from the roadway.
      • Drug and alcohol clearing house – proposed rule later this year.  Ensures carriers have the knowledge they have to only hire the best (avoid drivers who hop from one to the other as a result of drug test or skipping drug tests).
      • Pre-employment screening program.  Ensures everyone has the tools they need to prevent high risk drivers from getting behind the wheel.
    • Enforcement tools
      • Eminent hazard – get the bad actors off the road and give them a chance to rehabilitate and improve, or stay off the road.
    • HOS
      • Completed and published final rule – focus is to ensure that drivers have the opportunity to get proper rest. Minimize risk of operating after cumulated fatigue.
      • Reduces overall weekly hours by 15% (under maximum model – from 82 to 70 hours).
      • Rules take effect in July 2013.
      • Reduces risk of drivers pushing the limit and of carriers pushing drivers to push the limit.
      • FMCSA is developing in depth training programs for enforcement partners.

  • EOBRs
    • Listening session explanation – harassment
      • Remedial rule that was struck down last September because FMCSA failed to address the legislatively mandated anti-harassment requirements.
    • Next phase – press ahead with current NPRM
      • With listening session info and additional research, address harassment issues.
      • Include Technical standards.
  • C-Vision
    • Alive and well
  • National Registry for Medical Examiners – DOT Physical
    • Effective May 2014
    • Closing the gap insuring driver DOT physicals are accurate, current, and administered by educated medical examiners that know what it means to be a commercial driver from the perspective of individual health.
  • Sleep Apnea
    • Accidentally published a rule prior to it being ready.
    • Continue to work on the recommendations.
    • Will publish later this year, but what you saw last week is fairly accurate.

Jimmy Beasley, Transportation Security Specialist, Highway Motor Carrier Program
Transportation Security Administration

See my recent blog here.  Despite what some in President Obama’s Administration say, the TSA said the war on terror is far from over.

Ryan Posten, Deputy Associate Administrator, Office of Hazardous Materials Safety
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)

  • He receives 2-3 notifications of cargo tank roll overs daily.
  • Promoted the tanker safety training video:  www.fmcsa.dot.gov/about/outreach/cargo-tank-video.aspx
  • Working with NHTSA on rule for new electronic stability protection requirements on new vehicles.
  • Researching feasibility options for electronic shipping documents instead of      traditional paper – this would impact every driver.

It’s Not Football Season

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog titled, “Highway Bill – Political Football.”  In that blog post I supported the efforts of Representatives Mica and Duncan to pass a short term highway funding extension, but encouraged them to get a long term bill passed by June.

Well, it looks like any long term highway bill has virtually no chance of passage this year – just as predicted in my past writings.

Because transportation is intimately linked to the price of oil, any transportation legislation is prime pickings to insert energy related language.  The Republicans in the House have drawn the proverbial line in the sand with one such issue – The Keystone Pipeline.  This continues to be a hot political button and one the Republicans have rightfully advocated the approval of despite President Obama’s refusal to do the right thing for America’s energy independence.

But, choosing to try and include approval for the Keystone Pipeline in a meaningful long term highway bill, or even a short term extension, essentially kills any chance of approval.

The Democratic controlled Senate, with the support of many Republicans, passed a short term (though they refer to it as long term) 2 year highway bill.  The House will not pass that bill.  The Senate will not pass a House bill that includes the Keystone Pipeline or other similar provisions.

So, what we have here is an impasse that will result in multiple short term extensions that gets us through the election to the lame duck Congress and perhaps into the next Congress in 2013.

What does this mean for the transportation industry?  It means states are unable to plan much needed highway and infrastructure improvements with any certainty.  Yes, there will still be construction but it will be little more than patchwork to a deteriorating system.  It means that innovative proposals like that of Congressman Graves have little chance of any real consideration.  It means more of the status quo – which is not a good thing.

It’s high time Congress – both Republicans and Democrats – figure out that the political gamesmanship is what people are tired of.  Americans deserve meaningful solutions and using the long term highway bill in a game of high stakes political football is in no way helping this great country.

It’s time for leadership, not gamesmanship.

Fueling the Economy

It doesn’t take much to see that the economic recovery is moving at a snail’s pace, and that this will be the primary focus of the 2012 election cycle.  It’s also fairly easy to see that whether it’s the Highway Bill in Congress or the battle between the classes, the rhetoric is already ramping up.  Regardless of how you stand there’s one thing for certain – trucking will feel the impacts of this election year.

The Highway Bill

I’ve long advocated for the passage of a long term highway bill (see my Driving Through DC columns in Challenge Magazine) instead of these short term extensions that seem to be the norm now.

Having both worked in state government and lobbied state government, I can tell you that the short term extensions are nice for funding purposes but allow for very minimal long term planning.  And, it’s the long term funding bills that provide the states with the certainty they need in moving forward on major infrastructure projects.

My friends in Congress tell me that next week the Highway bill will hit the floor again.  The interesting thing is that when I ask what we can expect and what sort of obstacles, challenges, or even positives might come, the answer is less than inspiring.

I’m told that it’s unclear right now as not everyone knows what will be in the bill yet (a lengthy bill mind you, with lots of dollars attached to it).  How many of us run our personal lives or businesses like that?  It always concerns me when we take the student approach of cramming before the test.

The House was right to defeat the Senate’s highway bill, and a short term extension then was appropriate.  But now, it’s time for real leadership and a long term (6 years) highway bill.

Taxes on Oil

I also had the opportunity this week to interview Dr. Kevin Hasset, Director of Economic Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, for my local radio program.  He’s written a blog this week on why targeted taxes on big oil companies are inconsistent with capitalist theories and has a negative impact on the overall economy – thus, a bad idea.

We also discussed how this approach would also lead to higher fuel/transportation prices, which ultimately impacts the trucking industry and the end consumer.

Though the attacks on big oil, which is naturally a significant part of the transportation economy, have been largely unsuccessful in the recent past we can expect the attacks to continue during this election year.  If successful, expect to pay more at the pump and for even more strain on the small independent operators (the same supposed small businesses the Obama Administration is concerned about).

Listen to the discussion here:   Dr. Kevin Hassett

“ObamaCare” – Not Good For Trucking

Can the independent owner operator or small fleet owner afford more unfunded mandates?

I’ve mentioned before that I host a local radio program in the state of Washington and that from time to time I am able to share some of my interviews that are related to the trucking industry in some manner.

This week I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Roger Stark, a Health Care Policy Analyst with the Washington (state) Policy Center.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been hearing arguments this week about the constitutionality of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and specifically the “individual mandate” portion – you know, the part that requires all Americans to purchase health insurance.

In addition to the individual mandate, there are other employer requirements for those entities with 50 or more employees.

One of the concerns I have had with this legislation is the cost to the individual or small business in our industry – the independent owner operator or small fleet operator.  Naturally this legislation will have a major impact on all industries, including the trucking industry.  In my interview, I asked how the so-called “Obama-care” will impact individuals, retirees, and small businesses like owner operators or small fleets.

Listen to the interview by clicking here:  Dr. Roger Stark – ITB

After interviewing Dr. Stark, as well as others on my show in the past, I am convinced that the country cannot afford this Act.  I’m convinced that the independent owner operator will find this unfunded mandate, as well as the unfunded mandate on small fleets (50+ employees), to be yet another “nail in the coffin” of entrepreneurship.  I’m also convinced the U.S. Supreme Court will find it, or at least the individual mandate portion, to be unconstitutional when their decision is announced in June.

Unfortunately, I also recognize there are problems with the current health care system – yet there are few, if any, viable proposed solutions that I have heard.

House Committee Recognizes Burden of Overregulation

Seen First in Challange Magazine Online: Industry News
This is an excerpt of my comments. Be certain to visit Challenge Magazine Online for the full story.

Earlier this week staff at the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee reached out to me about today’s release of their video, “Regulation Nation: Doug’s Story.” This video highlights the increasing burden of overregulation on the trucking industry, specifically focusing on the new Hours of Service (HOS) Rules. Having had the great fortune of seeing this earlier in the week, I knew it was something I had to comment on and share.

Interestingly, my interrview with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was also published this month in Challenge Magazine. I asked him about the new HOS rules. He said, “Safety is DOT’s highest priority. Nothing else comes close. And the department’s new hours-of-service safety rule will go a long way toward curbing truck-driver fatigue and making sure everyone driving on our roads and highways is safe.”

He continued, “We carefully grounded our rule in the very latest research and data on driver fatigue, and we gathered input from truckers, safety-advocacy groups, law enforcement, industry groups and the general public at six public listening sessions we held across the country.”

The newly implemented HOS rules have resulted in displeasure on multiple fronts. Some might suggest if there is that much displeasure from all sides the rules must be good. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) disagrees though. “The theory that a good rule is one in which all sides are unhappy is not true, it really isn’t. A good rule is one in which the public is protected, and that the narrowest use of authority yields the greatest benefit,” said Issa.

Having followed the regulation of the trucking industry over the years, I can honestly say it’s great to see Congressman Issa and this House Committee taking notice of the burdensome barrage of regulations on the trucking industry. It’s really becoming a challenge for carriers – especially the smaller independents – to thrive, or even survive in this environment.

Read more about this, including comments from the House Committee, on Challenge Magazine’s web site. Here is the video just released by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee:

Special thanks to my friends at the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee.

Mission Creep on the Highways

The horrific events of September 11, 2001, ushered in a number of changes in American life. One of those changes was how we went through security at the airports. Obviously, the nature of the terrorist attacks that day focused the nation on a need to provide more security at airports and at the borders. President Bush and Congress quickly acted to establish the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) with the hopes of better defending America’s transportation systems – again, primarily airports.

Very Brief Historical Overview:

The TSA was created under the 2001 Aviation and Transportation Security Act and would be housed within the US Department of Transportation. The purpose of the TSA was to “increase security at airports and other transportation venues.” Note the emphasis on airports. In fact, when President Bush spoke at the signing of the 2001 Act, not once did he mention highways. In 2002, the Bush Administration and Congress created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which ultimately moved the TSA out of the DOT to the DHS. Again, the emphasis of the TSA was on air travel and the nation’s borders (not really on highways):

President Bush: “The new department will analyze threats, will guard our borders and airports, protect our critical infrastructure, and coordinate the response of our nation for future emergencies.”

Norman Mineta (then US Secretary of DOT): “Creating TSA was by far the toughest, most challenging, and most satisfying endeavor I’ve ever undertaken. Starting from a blank sheet of paper on Nov. 19, 2001, we created an agency of more than 60,000 employees that is truly fulfilling its goal of protecting Americans, as they travel across our country, and beyond. . . . Not only have we improved security for the traveling public, but [we] have also cut waiting times at checkpoints, fulfilling our promise of delivering world-class security and world-class customer service.”

And Now:

In 2007 the TSA began its efforts to expand its reach and influence to the highways with the development of “Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Teams in Mass Transit and Passenger Rail” (VIPR). After training and build up of personnel and resources, the first VIPR teams really started operation just last year.

In October 2011, Tennessee became the first state to collaborate with the TSA’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) program. This included checkpoints focusing on truckers, but if you watch the video in this story from News Channel 5 in Nashville, TN, you will see that TSA is doing largely what state troopers and safety inspectors traditionally do.

Even the TSA’s web site refers to trucking, but seems to echo the information of other federal agencies.

TSA has identified large trucks as potential terrorist weapons. As such, TSA’s FY 2013 budget request includes $100.2 million for a total of 37 VIPR teams, which is an increase over the FY 2012 budget (that budget included temporary funding for VIPR teams, while the FY 2013 makes this funding annualized). These teams, according to TSA Administrator John Pistole (in a statement before the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security on Appropriations) are used in “periodic random deployments…….and, serve as a visible deterrent in all transportation sectors.” This includes highways.

While there’s no question many of the protective policies put in place since 9/11 have helped prevent another terrorist attack, this is really a question of where the lines of authority end. We are all familiar with the criticisms directed toward the TSA – excessive, inappropriate and unnecessary pat downs, invasive screenings, and racial profiling. Some, including I, would even argue that the TSA has no role on the highways as those duties should fall to the states (think 10th Amendment).

I know of no one in trucking who is opposed to safety and security, but extending the reach of yet another federal agency into the business of trucking is excessive (especially when the TSA is doing nothing different than local agencies have always done). This mission creep by a federal agency can, and will, only lead to more regulation on an already highly regulated industry.  Heck, maybe you’ll even have the opportunity to be patted down by someone in a royal blue shirt wearing latex gloves.