FMCSA needs better benchmarks for CSA, auditors find

GAO report says agency lacks tools to assess interventions

Posted October 31, 2016

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) lacks the tools needed to tell whether certain improvements made to its Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program are working.

A recent investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the agency has taken some steps to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of CSA interventions — such as warning letters, audits, and investigations — but lacks ways to monitor progress.

Two years ago, the U.S. Senate required GAO to periodically assess the FMCSA’s implementation of the CSA program. The GAO’s report, released on Thursday, examines the extent to which the FMCSA has:

  • Implemented CSA interventions,
  • Evaluated the effectiveness and efficiency of those interventions, and
  • Monitored progress toward achieving its desired outcomes.

According to the report, the FMCSA set up a working group in April 2014 to assess the CSA interventions and make recommendations for improvement. Within the following two years, the group had made 20 recommendations, of which 12 were implemented.

“While FMCSA has established some performance measures for its effectiveness outcome that are appropriate, it has not established similar measures for its efficiency outcome,” the report notes.

Under the CSA program, the FMCSA can select from a range of eight intervention types to target unsafe motor carrier operations, ranging from warning letters to fines to out-of-service orders.

The GAO had intended to analyze whether there were any notable increases, decreases, or other trends in FMCSA’s use of interventions across states, regions, and motor-carrier types, but a lack of data prevented it from doing so.


The FMCSA came up with a statistical model to annually evaluate the effectiveness of its interventions. The GAO found that the model “has some key strengths” but also “a number of design and methodology limitations that reduce the usefulness of its results.” For one, the model does not include an assessment of individual intervention types.

“Without this type of specific information, FMCSA is hampered in its ability to identify the circumstances under which different types of interventions are effective,” the report says.


In terms of intervention efficiency, the FMCSA has relied on a 2011 study that estimated the average cost of conducting interventions in four states from October 2008 through May 2009.

The agency has not updated its cost estimates since then, the GAO reports, “nor has it taken steps to develop additional information that is representative of the costs in other states.”

“Without current cost estimates that are representative of all states, FMCSA cannot appropriately assess the efficiency of its interventions,” the report concludes.

The report also notes that the FMCSA has experienced delays in developing software needed to support two types of interventions: offsite investigations and the use of cooperative safety plans. The agency says it hopes to have the software running by April 2017.

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