The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has announced that U.S. taxpayers will be footing the startup costs of a program to install satellite tracking technology on vehicles taking part in the Mexican Truck Demonstration Program.

The announcement confirmed the U.S. government would “initially spend approximately $367,000 to outfit all trucks from the United States and Mexico that take part in the program.”

According to the administration, “the decision to require the installation of satellite tracking technology on trucks in the program was made after members of Congress expressed a desire to know whether participants are complying with federal safety and trade laws.”

A key opponent of the program, and author of the language in the transportation appropriations bill to halt funding of the program, continued to express disappointment Barry Piatt, spokesman for Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., told WND, “It’s an indication that they are going forward with the program, despite strong and pretty clear opposition from both chambers of Congress.”

Congressman Duncan Hunter’s office told WND he agrees. “The tracking technology, while a step in the right direction, does very little to ensure compliance with safety and security standards. The focus must remain on implementing reliable and enforceable standards that ensure Mexican truckers with access to U.S. roadways do not threaten the safety of vehicle motorists or America’s security,” explained Joe Kasper, spokesman for Hunter, R-Calif.

According to the FMCSA, the technology will help continue to ensure that trucks operating as part of the program are complying with the agency’s rigorous safety standards and U.S. trade laws.

The FMCSA intends to use the information gathered from the equipment to ensure trucks comply with hours-of-service laws and rules that govern the trips into and out of the country. The GPS-based technology also will allow real-time tracking of truck location, documenting every international-border and state-line crossing. The equipment does not provide cargo information.

“The satellite-based technology will be used to track trucks by vehicle number and company only – no driver information will be collected,” the administration statement said.

This, Hunter believes, does not go far enough. Kasper told WND, “Tracking technology, especially when driver data is not being collected, comes nowhere close to achieving this goal. Congressman Hunter continues to support an easily assessable database that includes driver history and background information, as well as stronger inspection requirements and enforcement standards.”

At an Oct. 18, 2007, meeting of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters told members that the satellite tracking system would help ensure safety, and that the DOT was working to compromise with Congress to continue the Mexican Truck Demonstration program despite language in the funding bill that would kill it.

Reacting to methods of compromise, Piatt told WND, “The fact that the administration is ignoring the view of Congress makes it less likely, not more likely, that it will look for a compromise on this. Congress has stated clearly that it believes going forward with such a program, without the information needed to assure safety on American roads, is not safe.”

He also questioned whether or not there are truly efforts to compromise. “Those rumors have been around, mostly fed by the administration, for some time. As the author of the Senate language, I can tell you their thumbing their nose at Congress – so to speak – is not helping their cause on this issue in Congress.”

For some, the fact that the FMCSA will spend just under $400,000 of American taxpayer money to equip all trucks, Mexican or U.S., with satellite tracking equipment raises questions. Kasper said, “I am not familiar with the funding aspect. But one would assume that there would be a shared funding responsibility (between the two countries).”

FMCSA spokeswoman Melissa Delaney was contacted regarding the funding but did not respond to inquiries.

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Michael Howe is a free-lance writer and radio talk show host who has covered political and legislative issues for several magazines. He resides in the Denver area where he serves on the faculty of Morgan Community College.

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