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Chairmanship of Prestigious Appropriations Committee

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With the passing of Senator Daniel Inouye on Monday, the leadership atop the Senate (Pro Tempore) as well as the Chairmanship of the highly influential Appropriations Committee were vacated and had to be filled.  Conventional wisdom early in the week was that Sen. Patrick Leahy would ascend to both the number three position in succession to the President and would also give up his gavel as presiding Chairman of the Judiciary Committee to take over the committee with jurisdiction over all federal spending.  This would have a cascading effect which would provide Senator Diane Feinstein with the ability to give up her current Chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee to take the vacated Judiciary slot, leaving the Intelligence Committee Chair open to Sen. Barbara Mikulski.
 
So much for conventional wisdom…
 
Yesterday afternoon, Sen. Leahy announced that he would not seek the Chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee, and would remain Judiciary Chair in the 113th Congress as that committee attempts to tackle high profile issues including gun control and immigration.  This announcement immediately stymied the potential changes for Senators Feinstein and Mikulski, and left open the leadership on Approps to the next most senior member – Tom Harkin.
 
But in a surprising, and highly important announcement, Sen. Harkin expressed his desire to pass up the Full Appropriations Committee Chairmanship, in order to maintain his position as the head of the HELP Committee and the Subcommittee Appropriations Chairmanship responsible for Labor, HHS, and Education funding.  As noted from the quote below, Sen. Harkin's reasons for passing up the position include his desire to continue to pursue education reform.
 
Ultimately this decision provided an opportunity for Senator Mikulski to ascend to the top slot on Appropriations, becoming the first woman to lead the Committee.
 
It should be apparent the implications of the decision Senator Harkin made to pass up this highly coveted position…

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Senate OKs bill aimed at protecting GI benefits

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Source: armytimes.com/news/2012/12/military-veterans-
bill-gi-benefits-passes-senate-122012/

By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Dec 20, 2012 6:16:49 EST

A landmark veterans bill aimed at protecting valuable GI Bill benefits from being wasted passed the Senate late Wednesday and is on its way to final passage in the House.

The compromise bill prevents schools that receive veterans’ education benefits from paying bounties for recruiting students and requires the VA to provide more consumer-oriented information to help veterans pick which schools to attend.

Called the Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act, the measure was first introduced by Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee who is concerned that veterans lack information to make wise choices when it comes to choosing schools.

“As our nation’s heroes make the transition from the battlefield to civilian life, we must do everything we can to arm veterans with the information they need to make informed decisions about their educational benefits, and ultimately ensure they remain competitive in today’s market,” Bilirakis said in a statement about the bill, HR 4057.

Although Bilirakis is the sponsor, the final bill is the result of negotiations between the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees, which had their own separate legislation. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., the lawmaker behind creation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, was chief sponsor of the Senate’s similar legislation.

Some of the consumer-related information is being collected by the VA under an executive order signed earlier this year by President Obama.

Part of the purpose of the bill is to have information available in one place. Veterans’ advocates have said that would make it easier for a person who has spent years in the service and doesn’t know much about higher educational institutions to discover facts that would help her decide which school to attend. A provision of the compromise bill tells the VA to avoid duplication with other programs as much as possible, suggesting the VA needs to have a only single website that contains links to information outside the VA, such as Education Department guides for non-veterans.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the House Veterans Affairs’ Committee chairman, said one of the reasons for pushing the bill is to try to prevent veterans, who generally have only 36 months of GI Bill benefits, from wasting them on courses or institutions that don’t meet their long-term goals.

“This bipartisan legislation will provide much needed tools for student veterans to make better informed decisions on how to use their educational benefits,” Miller said in a statement. “By empowering veterans with more information for post-secondary educational options, their hard-earned benefit will go further to put them on a path to meaningful employment in the civilian sector... Continue reading.

Source: armytimes.com/news/2012/12/military-veterans-bill-gi-benefits-passes-senate-122012/

 

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Truckpocalypse - Will the world end Friday? It would without trucks.

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Interactive Truckpocalypse graphic illustrates the vital role trucks play in our lives.
 
TUSCALOOSA, ALA. (December 2012) - According to the Mayans, this Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, will be the Apocalypse, the complete and final destruction of the world. While the imminent end of the world is dubious at best, one thing is certain: If the nation's 3 million trucks were to stop running, the world as we know it would grind to a halt.

That's the premise of Truckpocalypse, an infographic that walks the reader through the chaos that would ensue in the days and weeks after trucks stop. For example:

  • After three hours, major gas stations would run out of fuel, manufacturers would face component shortages and hospitals would run out of critical supplies;
  • After one day, grocery stores would have shortages of food;
  • After several days, garbage would pile up, threatening health and the environment, the airlines would stop, and consumers would begin to panic over shortages.

Truckpocalypse was created by Trucker Classifieds, a new website devoted to helping truck drivers find local driving jobs, using data from the American Trucking Association. Trucker Classifieds (www.truckerclassifieds.com) is a product of Randall-Reilly's Recruiting Media, which has a network of more than 30 websites dedicated to helping match truck drivers with good driving jobs.

"We created Truckpocalypse to illustrate the importance of the trucking industry to the nation's economy and to our entire way of life," says Scott Miller, senior vice president, sales at Randall-Reilly. "We hope it will make people pause and remember that if they have it, a truck brought it."

To download and share truckpocalypse, go to www.TruckerClassifieds.com/truckpocalypse. And remember, without trucks, America stops!

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Despite Recent Changes to CSA Program, Industry Concerns Remain

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Source: ttnews.com/articles/petemplate.aspx?storyid=30831
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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — If there was ever any doubt that the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program is rattling the freight industry, a recent all-day meeting of industry stakeholders here made it crystal clear that truckers, shippers, brokers and nonprofit groups alike still have concerns with the program.

Despite a consensus that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new safety monitoring program is a step in the right direction, truckers said they remain concerned that the scoring data is not always an accurate predictor of crash risk.

Shippers and brokers say they are grappling with how to use CSA data to help them determine which carriers are the safest to haul their freight... Continue reading (log-in to TTnews is required.)

Source: ttnews.com/articles/petemplate.aspx?storyid=30831
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FMCSA Asks for Guidance on Driver Training Rules

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By Timothy Cama, Staff Reporter @ Transport Topic

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration asked its advisory committee last week for help crafting minimum training requirements – including classroom and on-the-road instruction – for entry-level commercial drivers.

The agency proposed some requirements in December 2007, but comments its received from industry interest groups took issue with some aspects of the curriculum, how FMCSA would accredit training programs, the effect the regulation would have on the availability of new drivers and the benefits of training compared with the costs, said Rich Clemente, an FMCSA transportation specialist.

“Is a trained driver a safer driver? We would certainly like to think so, and that’s why we’ve been working on this,” Clemente said at a Dec. 3 presentation to the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee. “But right now, there is currently no federal standard.”

Federal officials have been working on entry-level driver-training standards for about two decades and even issued a regulation in 2003. But a federal court later told FMCSA the standards must include on-the-road training because the agency had determined that such training is necessary for safety.

That resulted in the 2007 proposal, which the agency has not acted on since then. “We’re coming up on the five-year anniversary of the notice of proposed rulemaking,” Clemente said. “It’s been a long time.”

A major roadblock for the regulation – one identified by many comments on the 2007 proposal – is that no research has shown a positive cost-benefit analysis for requiring training. It would be a “fairly high rule cost, but the benefits are only intuitive,” Clemente said.

FMCSA is overseeing two research projects the agency hopes will demonstrate benefits that exceed the costs of training, said Martin Walker, chief of the agency’s research division.

Members of MCSAC agreed with the push to require driver training, despite the lack of a positive cost-benefit analysis.

John Lannen, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition, noted that other industries have required operator training for a long time.

“Law enforcement, military, aviation, all see benefits of training… somehow, either by sheer logic or they have a cost-benefit analysis for it, I don’t know,” said Lannen, a MCSAC member. “It’s stunning that we’re struggling with the benefits of this when there are so many other examples that clearly have been done.”

“It’s not that people haven’t been able to find benefits,” said Rob Abbott, vice president for safety policy at American Trucking Associations and a MCSAC member. “It’s that the benefits haven’t exceeded the cost.”

For Abbott, the realities of the cost-benefit analysis mean that the training FMCSA requires should be crafted to cost less than the benefits it causes through increased safety.

Walker noted that the U.S. military does not have to prove that its driver training is cost-beneficial. “You just have to prove that you’re imparting training, and knowledge, and skills,” he said.

And the current requirements for commercial pilot training also did not go through a regulatory cost-benefit analysis, Walker said.

ATA, along with the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA) and other groups, is concerned the proposal mandated only the number of training hours required, not whether trainees actually learn the skills.

FMCSA has asked MCSAC to submit its recommendations before a meeting in April.

By Timothy Cama, Staff Reporter @ Transport Topic

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Nat Gas Has Great Promise for Trucking, Summit Told

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Source: ttnews.com/articles/petemplate.aspx?storyid=30774
By Transport Topics Staff
This story appears in the Dec. 10 print edition of Transport Topics.

ARLINGTON, Va. — Natural gas has tremendous potential as a trucking industry fuel, but its era for over-the-road freight hauling is just beginning, according to industry experts who addressed the Natural Gas in Trucking Summit here Nov. 29 and 30.

While a number of fleets have been experimenting with natural gas-powered trucks, appropriate equipment is only now getting close to market and fuel distributors are currently creating a national network of filling stations, the speakers said.

There are not enough equipment choices yet, and it all costs too much, speakers said, and servicing the new trucks requires extensive and expensive changes to maintenance shops, they added... Continue reading - Log-in Required.

Source: ttnews.com/articles/petemplate.aspx?storyid=30774

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House Bill Would Require Pilot Program for DOT Hair Testing for Drugs

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Source: truckinginfo.com/news/news-detail.asp?news_id=78715
By Truckinginfo Staff

Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wisc.) introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives requiring the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct a pilot program to evaluate the use of hair samples to test commercial drivers for illicit drug use.

American Trucking Associations applauded the move.

For many years, ATA has supported improving drug and alcohol testing procedures for commercial drivers, ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said. Hair testing, which research and experience shows can be much more effective than current, conventional sampling and testing methods."

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) is cosponsor.

No fleet wants to put the safety of the public at risk by putting an impaired driver behind the wheel of one its trucks, said ATA Chairman Mike Card, president of Combined Transport, Central Point, Ore. More effective drug testing procedures can help us make sure that doesn't happen.

Major fleets such as Schneider National, C.R. England and J.B. Hunt require drivers to undergo hair testing for drugs, but those results cannot be shared with other prospective employers like urine testing can.

The practice of defeating and falsifying urine tests is widespread enough in the trucking industry to have prompted a Government Accountability Office investigation in 2007 that uncovered some disturbing problems.

Undercover investigators were able to use bogus commercial driver's licenses at 24 drug-testing sites, proving that a driver could easily send a substitute in with a fake ID. In addition, 22 of the 24 sites did not follow testing protocols, which opened the door to further cheating, GAO found.

Hair testing for drugs is on the agenda of the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security, known for short as The Trucking Alliance, which originally was formed to lobby for mandatory electronic onboard recorders. Its agenda for the next two-year congressional cycle includes promoting hair testing for drugs, creation of a drug and alcohol clearinghouse, and other issues.

Source: truckinginfo.com/news/news-detail.asp?news_id=78715

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CSA Update: December 2012 Improvements to the SMS Have Arrived!

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The Safety Measurement System (SMS) enhancements are here. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is announcing the implementation of 11 changes to the November snapshot of SMS. These changes reflect public input, following a preview period that began in March 2012. During that period, more than 19,000 carriers and 2,900 law enforcement personnel viewed the SMS preview data and provided comments.

For more information about these most recent changes, see the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) Website (http://csa.fmcsa.dot.gov) or the FMCSA news release under News & Alerts (www.fmcsa.dot.gov). Motor carriers can keep track of their data on the SMS Website (http://ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/sms/) and find out more about the SMS improvements.

FMCSA remains committed to CSA and making enhancements in an open and transparent manner to further reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses. The Agency values the input of all safety stakeholders and actively seeks constructive input and new ideas that will further improve safety on our Nation’s roadways. To submit a question or contact a member of our team, visit http://csa.fmcsa.dot.gov/CSA_Feedback.aspx.

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Truckers Told Nat Gas Growth Depends on Related Changes

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By Rip Watson, Senior Reporter
This story appears in the Dec. 3 print edition of Transport Topics.

ARLINGTON, Va. — The emergence of natural gas as a viable fuel for trucking is dependent on progress in overcoming infrastructure hurdles such as a dependable fuel supply network, a new generation of engines and driver acceptance, industry experts said last week.

“The big question is timing,” James Haslam II, chairman of Pilot Flying J, said when he addressed the American Trucking Associations’ Summit on Natural Gas in Trucking here on Nov. 29... Continue reading. (Log-in to TTNews is required.)

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Federal Highway Administrator Visits Volpe, Discusses Innovation

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VMendez.jpgVictor M. Mendez, U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway (FHWA) administrator, recently spent a day at Volpe, The National Transportation Systems Center, to learn about Volpe's FHWA work portfolio and talk to staff about innovation. During the administrator's visit, Volpe experts briefed Mendez on a variety of efforts, including Volpe's role in the second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2) and efforts in economic analysis, professional capacity building, transportation planning, environmental stewardship, and program evaluation.

Mendez shared his perspectives on the challenges FHWA is currently facing and also spoke to the Volpe community about innovation. "One of my favorite topics is innovation," said Mendez. In today's world, with limited resources and safety challenges, there is a need to find ways to innovate the transportation industry and implement great ideas.

Mendez paved the way for just that when he launched Every Day Counts, an initiative designed to identify and deploy innovative technologies that shorten project delivery, enhance the safety of our roadways, and protect the environment. Every Day Counts is a partnership between the Federal Highway Administration, state DOTs, local governments, and the construction and consulting communities.

"The essence of good inventions is looking at the world in a different way—coming forth with new ideas and not necessarily new inventions," said Mendez, who spoke during Volpe's Straight from the Source lecture series on October 25. A key element of Every Day Counts is that it seeks innovative input from all employees, opening channels and providing a venue to bring new ideas to the table.

Every Day Counts is designed to shave years off the delivery process, including conventional highway projects, which take roughly 14 years to build. "People cannot wait 14 years, and I do not think we should have to wait 14 years to enjoy the benefits of a safer infrastructure," said Mendez.

A proponent of design-build, Mendez spoke about local communities knowing what works best for their projects, using the Fast 14 project as an example. Under Fast 14, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation replaced 14 bridges over a 10-weekend period. Traditionally, this would have taken three to four years to complete. This is the kind of innovation that we are looking for, he said. As a result of using the accelerated bridge construction approach, traffic congestion was minimized and safety was increased by working weekends: an innovative solution that helped improve people's lives.

Congress has taken notice of the innovative solutions offered by Every Day Counts and brought many of these ideas into MAP-21, a law authorizing $105 billion for surface transportation through 2014. It is anticipated that in the next 5 to 6 years, bridges will be built using a similar design-build approach rather than the traditional approach.

Our transportation system affects the lives of people every day and is a major economic driver in our country, Mendez said. One challenge that our system faces is that our workforce is facing a transition—the trend of more experienced people nearing retirement and leaving the industry. By making innovation part of the basic culture of transportation, though, it creates a culture that lasts and continues long after those that depart the workforce. It is important to address this issue by keeping the pipeline filled with talented people with innovative ideas.
Mendez concluded by saying that with limited resources, we need to improve to be better, work smarter, deliver transportation projects sooner, and encourage states to use new technologies. At a time when we are experiencing challenging constraints, Every Day Counts touches on creating jobs, maintaining infrastructure, enhancing safety, protecting the environment, and growing the economy.