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March 18, 2019

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Government Watchdog Criticizes FMCSA’s Information Technology Systems

A government watchdog has issued a searing review of some of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s most critical information technology systems used to monitor the safety of motor carriers.

In an audit made public in early July, the Government Accountability Office said that the agency has failed to create effective information technology modernization or strategic plans and has fallen short in establishing the processes needed to ensure that some of the systems meet user needs.

“The agency lacks adequate visibility into and oversight of IT investment decisions and activities and cannot ensure that its investments are meeting cost and schedule expectations and that appropriate actions are taken if these expectations are not being met,” the audit said.

Portions of the IT audit underscored some of the observations made by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in a study in June of FMCSA’s Safety, Accountability, Compliance program methodology.

“IT systems and infrastructure serve as a key enabler for FMCSA to achieve its mission,” the GAO audit said.

The agency reported spending about $46 million for its IT investments in fiscal year 2016, according to GAO.

The four IT systems that play a part in assessing the safety of the more than 550,000 active carriers were audited by GAO from April 2016 to July 2017. Those systems included:

  • The Motor Carrier Management Information System, or MCMIS, that captures data from field offices and is the authoritative source for inspection, crash, compliance review, safety audit and registration data.
  • The Safety Enforcement Tracking and Investigation System, or Sentri, a system used to facilitate agency and state safety audits, primarily those involving new entrants and CSA. As of May, officials with the FMCSA’s Office of Information Technology stated they have stopped the development of Sentri 2.1.
  • Aspen, a desktop application that collects commercial driver/vehicle inspection details and creates and prints a vehicle inspection report.
  • The Unified Registration System not yet fully developed that will replace existing registration systems with a single comprehensive, online system and provide a more efficient means of submission and manipulation of data pertaining to registration applications.

“FMCSA had not fully ensured that the selected systems — Aspen, MCMIS, Sentri 2.0 and URS — were effectively meeting the needs of the agency. Specifically, none of the program offices conducted the required operational analyses for the four systems,” GAO said.

To modernize its inspection systems, FMCSA began planning in 2014 to develop Integrated Inspection Management System, which is intended to provide inspectors with a single system to perform checks. However, as of May, the agency still was in the planning stage of the effort, as it was assessing the current state of its inspection processes and data management systems, and planning to issue a report detailing actions the agency needs to take, the audit said.

The audit said MCMIS program officials did not assess current costs against life cycle costs, perform structured assessments of schedule and performance goals or identify whether the investment supports business and customer needs and is delivering the services it was designed to, including identifying whether the system overlaps with other systems.

“This is particularly concerning given that all seven users we interviewed stated that the system does not interact well with other systems and users have to access other systems to gather information that they cannot obtain in MCMIS,” the GAO audit said.

The June National Academies of Sciences study also said that FMCSA needed “increased efforts to acquire better data,” adding that “much of the information provided by police reports is not represented on MCMIS.”

“FMCSA should continue to collaborate with states and other agencies to improve the quality of MCMIS data in support of SMS,” the study said. “Two specific data elements require immediate attention: carrier exposure and crash data.”

FMCSA said it concurred with the GAO’s recommendations to improve the systems.

“We will provide a detailed response to each recommendation within 60 days of the final report’s issuance,” FMCSA wrote.

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