Rep. Crawford Highlights COVID Policies and Trucker Shortage in Hearing on Supply Chain
Washington — Representative Rick Crawford (AR-01) on Wednesday questioned Chris Spear, President of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), about the federal government’s response to COVID-19 as well as the driver shortage and how it is affecting the trucking industry. Most recently, the Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act (IIJA) included a pilot program that allows 18 to 20-year-old drivers who have a Commercial Driver’s License to work across state lines.
“Forty-nine states already allow an 18-year-old to drive a Class 8, they just can’t cross state lines,” said Mr. Spear during the hearing. “Now that works pretty good from Redding, California down to San Diego, but 20 minutes outside of Providence, Rhode Island not so much.”
Rep. Crawford was an original co-sponsor of similar legislation as the provision in question, titled the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act, or the DRIVE Safe Act. The legislation would allow a pathway for drivers under the age of 21 to drive trucks across state lines by creating an apprenticeship program.
Unfortunately, implementation of the bill by the Department of Transportation (DOT) has been slower than desired, and DOT has added provisions inconsistent with the text of the law.
“Having a camera in your face every minute of every hour of every work day, that’s not in the bill and it’s going to limit companies from joining this program and putting young talent in a capacity where they can replace our aging workforce,” Mr. Spear highlighted.
“Agencies taking ‘artistic liberties’ with their interpretation of laws that Congress wrote and the president signed into law often leads, as we see here, to regulations that violate the very law being interpreted,” said Rep. Crawford after the hearing. “Oversight is desperately needed in this area and I am gratified to be part of a House majority that will provide this.”
The hearing, in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was entitled, “The State of Transportation Infrastructure and Supply Chain Challenges.”
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I ask unanimous consent to submit for the record a letter from the Fertilizer Institute on their concerns about supply chain challenges.
I thank the panelists for being here today. I want to start with you Mr. Spear. Looking back at the COVID-19 pandemic, in your estimation what could the federal government have done better to manage the public health concerns while at the same time maintaining continuity of supply chain?
Mr. Spear (ATA)
Well how much time do you have? But seriously, this is our first time all together dealing with a global pandemic. There were a lot of things thrown at our country, our economy, our industry, that we had to adjust to very quickly in order to make certain that store shelves had milk, eggs, bread and that gas stations had fuel. But then came the rush to get PPE, test kits, and the vaccine itself, that was moving largely by truck. Our industry stepped up to the plate when a lot of people stayed home not knowing what impact this would have on their health, their family’s health – all real concerns. With all these risks still in their minds, they still got in the cab, they still drove those loads where they needed to be. They were the glue certainly in the early weeks and months of the pandemic. I think the inclusiveness of government and industry to solve problems of this magnitude is absolutely essential. I can point to things where we had a lot of conflict between our government and the government of Canada. Our inability to match bearings with public safety and health policy to get our trucks across land to their largest trading partner. We’re dependent on one another and it just took two governments sitting down to hammer that out and they didn’t do it – that’s leadership. I’m not pointing fingers but that’s just a reality that has an impact on an industry like ours to serve the populace, to serve society on the basic needs that they have to have. I think that when we looked at the OSHA announcement to require vaccines for employers with more than 100 employees – with my background coming off Senate Labor Committee, OSHA, DOL – we knew they did not have the authority to do that. We did not want to go to court. That was something that we certainly could’ve sat down and worked out but we ended up litigating it. It ended up going to the Supreme Court, six-three decision, you all know the outcome. A lot of wasted time on issues we really should be sitting down and working collectively toward. I can also point to a lot of good that came out of it as well. I drove in many instances across the country – we have a home in Wyoming. Seeing those billboards out in a cornfield thanking a trucker, seeing those banners off the overpasses, our drivers getting off of an interstate and being met by a police officer to escort them to where they can get a hot meal and a shower, boy scouts and girl scouts handing out baked goods at rest stops. Our image climbed to a level that wasn’t even known to be possible.
On that note, Mr. Spear, I would note that you did this at a time when the trucking industry was suffering and continues to suffer through a massive driver deficit. I share your support – as you mentioned in your opening testimony, to make it easier for our constituents to choose a career in truck driving, such as ensuring that 18 to 20-year-old drivers who have a Commercial Driver’s License can work across state lines. I know you’ve been supportive of the three-year pilot program that was included in the IIJA. How is implementation going?
Mr. Spear (ATA)
It’s like everything in this town – slower than we would like, but we have grown accustomed to it. I do think this program is going to bear fruit. We worked really hard in this committee to create a bipartisan understanding of this block of talent ages 18-20. But I’m also mindful as you understand that 49 states already allow an 18-year-old to drive a Class 8, they just can’t cross state lines. Now that works pretty good from Redding, California down to San Diego, but 20 minutes outside of Providence, Rhode Island not so much. What we need to do is have good training and technology – none of the 49 states do that. This program that was put in the IIJA does. We need to teach young talent how to safely and responsibly operate this equipment. Inserting an issue like front-facing cameras, that was not part of the deal. That’s a matter that most companies and their employees should negotiate out. Having a camera in your face every minute of every hour of every work day, that’s not in the bill and it’s going to limit companies from joining this program and putting young talent in a capacity where they can replace our aging workforce. So this is a concern where oversight is needed. I applaud you for shedding some light on this. We need to follow the law that you handed the agency. This is an area where I think we’ll experience a bit of a headwind in getting this program off the ground.
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