U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will testify on implementation of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, a bipartisan five-year reauthorization of surface transportation agencies and programs signed into law in December. The Commerce Committee authored key provisions in the FAST Act to spur growth and enhance the safety of our nation’s transportation system.
The Honorable Anthony Foxx, Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation
Wednesday, June 8, 2016
2:30 p.m. ET
Full Committee Hearing
Senate Russell Building 253
Witness testimony, opening statements, and a livestream will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
Chairman John Thune
Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us to discuss the implementation of the FAST Act. We’ve just passed the six-month anniversary of the enactment of the first long term highway bill in more than a decade, and – after 36 short-term extensions – the FAST Act provides the certainty and reforms necessary to improve our nation’s infrastructure and spur economic growth. The FAST Act was a significant bipartisan achievement showing once again the Senate is back to work for the American people.
This Committee’s work, which accounted for more than half of the text of the bill, helped to enhance safety, increase transparency, reform regulatory structures, and improve planning for freight. With reforms covering everything from railroads to cars, and trucks to ports, as well as research and technology, this legislation was a true team effort to reduce congestion, protect passengers, and improve our nation’s multimodal supply chain.
Each member of the Committee contributed to the success of the FAST Act. Senator Fischer drafted the FMCSA reforms. Senators Wicker and Booker formed a bipartisan team to reauthorize Amtrak and rail safety and infrastructure programs. Senators Blunt, Heller, and Manchin contributed provisions to streamline the permitting process for rail projects. Senator Cantwell made major contributions on freight transportation. Senators Ayotte, Heller, McCaskill, and Klobuchar all made significant contributions to the NHTSA titles.
The FAST Act contains many provisions that protect lives on our nation’s roadways by improving highway traffic safety and promoting greater consumer awareness and corporate responsibility for vehicle safety. For instance, I am pleased that the Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act is now the law of the land. This law, which I introduced with Ranking Member Nelson and others, incentivizes employees to ‘‘blow the whistle’’ when manufacturers sit on important safety information.
Other provisions in the bill also sought to address a lack of confidence in NHTSA’s handling of recent recalls by creating strong incentives for the agency to get its house in order. In the wake of the recall over the GM ignition switch defect, the inspector general published a scathing report identifying serious lapses at NHTSA, including questions about the agency’s ability to identify and investigate safety problems. Following the incentives in the FAST Act, I understand that NHTSA has made some progress implementing the reforms called for by the inspector general, closing eight of 17 recommendations.
Clearly there is more work to be done, however, and you can expect continued pressure from this Committee to increase agency efficiency.
I am also proud of the impaired driving provisions that we worked to enact. The law adds a new grant to states that provide 24/7 sobriety programs, a program which originated in South Dakota, while maintaining the grant for states with strong ignition interlock laws. I am pleased that the Department seems to be listening to stakeholder concerns about the implementation of highway safety grants, but the Department needs to improve its partnership with the states on highway safety and provide greater flexibility so states can tackle their own unique highway safety challenges.
As I noted, in addition to vehicle safety, the FAST Act includes a rail title sponsored by Senators Wicker and Booker that reforms Amtrak to improve its services and finances, overhauls the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program to make it more efficient and accessible, and – most importantly – raises the bar on rail safety.
I commend the Department for its thoughtful approach in defining Amtrak’s new account structure and its expeditious action to meet the deadlines set in law. While some of the RRIF program reforms are tied up with the creation of the Innovative Finance Bureau, I hope the Department can nonetheless take quick action to increase the transparency of the program, repay credit risk premiums, and provide stakeholders with greater certainty concerning eligibility and program terms.
On rail safety, I look forward to FRA’s forthcoming actions to implement the grade crossing requirements of the FAST Act, including the distribution of model action plans and risk data to states. In 2015, 244 individuals died at railroad crossings, the second most common cause of railroad-related fatalities after trespassing. I strongly encourage FRA to provide states with comprehensive and detailed education, enforcement, and engineering strategies to reduce grade crossing accident risk. I expect this will entail collaboration across the Department and with stakeholders on the more effective uses of Section 130 program funds.
I also look forward to the FRA’s forthcoming actions to implement my amendment requiring cameras on passenger trains, fulfilling a longstanding NTSB recommendation and helping railroads better monitor crews and track conditions. This is just one of several FAST Act requirements to increase rail safety as positive train control is fully and safely implemented. In addition to new safety measures, the FAST Act provided $199 million in dedicated funding to states and commuter railroads to accelerate the deployment of this important safety technology.
I think it is also important to note that this bill builds upon freight planning efforts from the previous short term authorization, MAP-21, to ensure that freight planning is truly multimodal. Highways bring freight to our stores and our doors, but railroads, and ports bring goods to our shores, and across our country. Recognizing that our transportation system is a network dependent on each element ensures that planning considers the whole supply chain, from farm to truck, to rail to port. The Port Performance Working Group will ensure that we achieve efficiencies at our ports by capturing and analyzing performance metrics.
Our economic competitiveness is dependent on our ability to compete with our foreign competitors, and if our corn is more expensive because our transportation is more expensive, our competitors win.
Mr. Secretary, I’d like to close by thanking you and the Department for your commitment to meeting the deadlines set in the FAST Act. This Committee understands that this comprehensive legislation includes many new program reforms, safety mandates, and reports, and we greatly appreciate your efforts thus far to help this legislation deliver for the American people.
There is much work to be done over the next four and half years, and this Committee will conduct rigorous oversight to ensure the success of these vital transportation programs, but we are off to a good start.
As the FAST Act is implemented, and as this Congress works to send the President an FAA, pipeline safety, and MARAD reauthorization in the near future, I’d like to thank you for your continued partnership in improving all aspects of our nation’s transportation network.
I want to thank Chairman Thune for calling this important hearing on the Department of Transportation’s efforts to implement the FAST Act.
I’m glad that we have Secretary Foxx with us today to discuss how DOT will be putting the new FAST Act programs to work for people.
Thanks in large part to the work of this committee, the FAST Act authorized $305 billion in road, rail, transit, and port infrastructure investments through 2020. This includes almost $11 billion to improve freight across all types of transportation and an additional $8 billion to repair our nation’s passenger rail network.
A substantial portion of these funds will be awarded as competitive grants through new programs established by the FAST Act.
But for transportation to be an engine for economic growth, it must first be safe for the families and commuters that rely on it every day. And one major area where we have to do better is vehicle safety.
Over the past year and a half, I have overseen a broad investigation of the Takata airbag fiasco.
As part of that work, last week I released a report that assessed automakers’ progress in recalling and replacing defective Takata airbag inflators.
The findings from that report are alarming. So far, automakers’ recall completion rates range from as high as 57 percent to less than 1 percent.
These defective airbags are still being produced and installed as replacement inflators in recalled vehicles, meaning millions of consumers will have to replace their airbags not once – but twice.
But the most shocking part of all was the discovery that at least four automakers are still selling – or have plans to sell – new vehicles equipped with these defective airbags.
That means a consumer who goes to a dealer of one of these four automakers can drive away with a brand new vehicle without any disclosure that the vehicle will be recalled for its defective airbag in two years.
This is wrong and outright fraud. These cars should be fixed before a consumer drives what they think is a perfect, new vehicle off the lot.
At a minimum, this information needs to be disclosed to the consumer when purchasing these new vehicles.
So, I’m looking forward to hearing Secretary Foxx’s perspective on what DOT and NHTSA can do to improve the recall process – and specifically to ensure that consumers are not buying new cars that may have a defective part that could kill or seriously injure them at some point in the future.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Anthony FoxxSecretaryU.S. Department of Transportation