The following six trucking policy issues are already on DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s radar:
- A speed limiter mandate
- A side underride guard mandate, and stronger rear underride guard standards
- Continued hours of service and ELD relief for agricultural commodity and livestock truckers
- Allowing 18-20-year-olds to drive in interstate commerce
- Ways to address the driver shortage, and
- Eliminating the 12% excise tax on new trucks/equipment
How did those items specifically end up on his agenda? In January 2021, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee held a confirmation hearing to consider Mr. Buttigieg for Secretary of the U.S. DOT. Confirmation hearings are an opportunity for Senators to ask a nominee lots of questions. Nominees usually answer questions with high-level overviews that don’t include a great deal of substance. Senators then have the opportunity to send written follow-up questions, which is where the process can get more interesting for two reasons.
- Organizations with their own policy agenda often draft questions (e.g., the Teamsters, ATA, public safety groups like Public Citizen, etc.). They then provide them to Senators, who pose them in writing to the nominee. Follow up written questions can be more interesting than the hearing itself for a second reason—because the nominee usually doesn’t draft the written responses.
- Key staff in the Department, or the affected Agency (think NHTSA and FMCSA), draft the answers, and the nominee reviews the answers, ‘signs off’ and sends them to the Senators.
Each trucking issue listed above was raised in written questions. It’s worth noting that a few Republican Senators tried to gain a commitment from the Secretary to maintain the Trump Administration’s approach on HOS and ELD relief for agriculture and livestock haulers and to move ahead with the 18-20-year-old pilot program with an eye toward lowering the age limit for interstate drivers. The Secretary’s responses were cautious and probably not as illuminating as the Senators and their constituents were hoping, but he clearly did not suggest an immediate policy shift on these issues. We shall see…