Date: Friday, December 23, 2022
A fiscal year 2023 funding bill unveiled Tuesday includes updated measures affecting trucking and maritime, including issues related to illegal truck brokering and support for lightweight shipping containers.
The $1.7 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023, is an “omnibus” spending bill that combines 12 appropriations packages, including $106 billion to fund the U.S. Department of Transportation. Congress is expected to approve and pass the 4,155-page bill by the end of the week to avoid a partial government shutdown before the Christmas holiday.
Most of the DOT provisions were released over the summer when the House version of the DOT portion of the bill was introduced. Since then, however, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued proposed interim guidelines attempting to clarify differences between truck brokers, bona fide agents and dispatch services.
Congress wants FMCSA to finalize those guidelines, aimed at cracking down on companies that engage in truck brokering but without proper authority, no later than June 16, according to an explanatory statement accompanying the spending bill.
The bill also modifies a requirement included in the explanatory report to the original House version of the spending measure regarding unlawful brokerage activities.
Issued in July, the report cited concerns about reports of illegal brokerage activities, including unregistered brokers attempting to broker loads and those that failed to satisfy financial security requirements. It directed FMCSA to report on its efforts to ensure brokers were complying with the law, including seeking civil penalty violations in federal court.
The updated report issued Tuesday requires FMCSA to also identify safety concerns arising from unlawful brokerage activities.
Funding set aside for DOT agencies includes $873.6 million for FMCSA and $1.2 billion for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, including money aimed at rolling out autonomous vehicles (AVs).
The bill encourages NHTSA to use up to $9 million of its funding amount for AV testing and directs the agency to submit a report within 90 days on the status of current research and rulemaking related to deployment of new AV technology. It also directs DOT to provide another $15 million for autonomous vehicle research in rural communities.
In addition to required updates from FMCSA on the agency’s pilot apprenticeship program for 18- to 20-year-old drivers, the bill directs FMCSA to “provide alternative data or no data” in providing those updates to Congress if the agency encounters problems obtaining the information, including the number of registered drivers and carriers in the program.
Funding lightweight shipping containers
The U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd), collaborating with the Federal Maritime Commission and the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, will be tasked with supporting the transition of composite shipping containers “into wider use to provide increased security, shipment visibility and cargo facilitation,” according to the bill’s explanatory statement.
“The agreement directs [MarAd] to use the existing America’s Marine Highway program and the port infrastructure development program to promote and provide funding for secure composite shipping containers, if available and if eligible.”
Carbon fiber composite containers, characterized in the past as being more expensive than steel counterparts, quickly make up for that expense in fuel cost savings due to their lighter weight. Reports have also shown composite containers to be longer lasting and more easily scanned for hazardous and illegal cargo.