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Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I am cosponsoring the amendment offered by the distinguished Senator from North Dakota because I believe there are very serious safety issues involved here which have not been answered sufficiently by the Department of Transportation.

Here we have a situation where the Secretary of Transportation announced a pilot program on February 23 of this year to allow up to 100 Mexican trucking companies to ship goods to and from the United States. The Iraq supplemental appropriations bill delayed implementation of this program until there was a report by the inspector general and a response by the Department of Transportation. The inspector general released his report and the Department of Transportation submitted responses on the same day--on September 6. As I read these documents, it is insufficient to have the requisite guarantees of safety. And of no little concern to me is that all of this should be done on the same day, without taking into account some very serious underlying problems.

There are safety concerns here which include the database deficiencies that prevent the Department of Transportation inspectors from being able to accurately gather information on truckdriver convictions and driving violations, vehicle accident reports, and insurance records. The inspector general confirms that these databases are still under development. The Department of Transportation report does not respond to these issues.

The inspector general report also states that the Department of Transportation has not developed and implemented adequate plans for checking trucks and drivers participating in the demonstration project as they cross the border. The DOT report responded by stating they created border-crossing plans with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Well, that is hardly an assurance of safety.

We do want to have good relations with Mexico. We do not want to impede legitimate commerce. But safety is a very vital factor, and there are good reasons to insist on safety and verification before we permit this pilot program with 100 trucking companies, which we can obviously expect to be supplemented in a very substantial number. When you are dealing with issues on truckdriver convictions and driving violations and vehicle accident reports, you are talking about something which is very probative on whether it is a safe program. When you are talking about insurance records, those are necessary in order to be sure that if there are accidents, and there is liability, there is adequate insurance to protect Americans from these trucks which are coming into our country.

We have had a fair amount of experience here. I believe there is ample time to reevaluate this program if and when this database is updated and there is sufficient record documentation to guarantee the requisite safety. But on this date of the record, it seems to me this program ought not to go forward, and the amendment which Senator Dorgan has advanced is very sound. I intend to support it and I urge my colleagues to do the same.

Mr. President, I thank my colleague from North Dakota for yielding me time at this stage of the debate.

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