WASHINGTON — A government audit has determined that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration should make its complaint database more transparent to improve its usefulness for truck drivers.
A report published on Tuesday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded that FMCSA does not make all categories of complaint data publicly available — contrary to U.S. Department of Transportation policy.
“Specifically, FMCSA does not make public any information on complaints against truck companies, bus companies, or electronic logging device providers,” the 60-page report states. “As a result, FMCSA may be missing the opportunity to improve transparency and collaboration with industry partners.”
The agency hasn’t made public release of the information a priority, FMCSA officials told GAO. “FMCSA officials said that they have no current plans to make all categories of complaint data public, but may consider doing so in the future.”
But GAO recommends FMCSA change that stance. Recommendation 1 — among 14 in the report — is that the FMCSA administrator “make data on all categories of complaints available to the public, as appropriate, and in line with DOT’s Data Management Policy.”
GAO’s audit, which ran from April 2022 to September 2023, analyzed complaints submitted from January 2016 through December 2021. Roughly 37,700 of those complaints were made against truck companies, 29,400 were against moving companies and moving brokers, and 200 were against bus companies.
The review found that FMCSA provided detailed internal guidance on how FMCSA staff should review and respond to some categories of complaints but not for others. Supplemental guidance was provided for coercion and harassment complaints made by drivers against trucking companies, for instance, including examples of what a complaint must allege to be considered coercion or harassment.
“In contrast, the complaint review guidance for safety, hazardous materials, household goods, and other commercial complaints does not contain step-by-step instructions on how to respond, review, and close complaints,” according to GAO.
Trucker outreach lacking
Providing outreach to its target audiences is important for FMCSA to ensure its database remains useful, GAO asserted. But the watchdog agency found that FMCSA’s outreach varied by audience, with more going to those in the general public who plan to use household movers and less going to commercial truck drivers.
In fact, representatives from five trucking associations interviewed by GAO — including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the Truckload Carriers Association — were not aware of FMCSA’s outreach to promote its complaint website.
“These representatives said they hear from truck drivers about incidents that could be reported to the complaint website, giving examples such as employers coercing drivers to exceed the hours-of-service limit and not addressing workplace safety concerns,” GAO stated.
In response, FMCSA officials told GAO that the focus on its household goods program “is in line with the priorities and direction of FMCSA leadership,” and that the $4 million in funding available each fiscal year for outreach and education “must also be used for other programs and initiatives.”
GAO also found that the complaint website “is not consistently easy to view on mobile devices,” an issue that should be corrected given that trucking industry representatives consider it particularly important for truck drivers.
Agency pushes back on user testing
FMCSA officials told GAO that the website has not undergone testing with external users because the feedback the agency receives from internal testing and user surveys “is sufficient for its purposes.”
However, because FMCSA may be missing opportunities to learn about real-world user needs, GAO recommended that such testing be conducted with truck drivers or other trucking industry professionals. This was the only recommendation that FMCSA pushed back on, telling GAO that conducting external user testing is not a “sustainable” approach.
“FMCSA further stated it plans to modernize the complaint website to ensure it follows industry standards for design and integrates user feedback,” GAO noted.
However, while GAO acknowledged that modernizing would be a good first step, “we maintain that testing the website with external users — a leading practice for federal websites — would provide FMCSA with critical insight on how useful the website is for its target audiences before launching any changes to the complaint website,” the audit stated.
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