As a new president transitions to the Oval Office, many pieces must be put in place by the new administration in a coordinated fashion. One of the critical steps that must be handled effectively and efficiently is the appointment of key staff members, including Cabinet Secretaries and other agency leadership.
While school transportation is not the purview of any one federal agency, our government is involved across a broad spectrum of functions due to its oversight and regulatory authority over vehicle safety and driver readiness.
Let us take a closer look at those agencies and how their work interacts with our own for school bus safety:
US Department of Transportation (USDOT):
The Department of Transportation oversees and provides funding for all our major highway and related transportation infrastructure including railways, airways, seaways and bridges. The Department has control over billions of dollars for infrastructure improvements and development. It also includes several agencies of critical importance to school transportation safety, which we highlight further below.
We expect that DOT will be the focus of significant budget allocations as the incoming administration has promised to invest in all levels of infrastructure as one element of an economic recovery program. NAPT will monitor such developments to determine the extent to which such investments might benefit or otherwise affect school transportation.
USDOT: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
The mission statement of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is to: Save lives, prevent injuries and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes, through education, research, safety standards and enforcement activity.
The mission of the NHTSA is critical to school transportation as it encompasses overall vehicle and equipment safety. It is through NHTSA that standards are set for school bus construction, lighting, seating, signage, emissions and fueling, and more. While we have engaged on dozens of issues with this agency, one major issue has been the focal point of our relationship with NHTSA: seat belts on school buses.
NAPT continues to bring issues facing our industry to NHTSA and we will accelerate our outreach to the new administration as key officials are nominated by the incoming President.
USDOT-Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA):
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sees its mission as being “to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries.”
FMCSA carries out this mission through regulatory actions and oversight of the motor carrier industry, including trucks, transit buses, motorcoaches and school buses among other vehicles. They also issue regulatory actions related to driver readiness and roadworthiness, including drug and alcohol testing regimens, training provider registries, training for commercial motor vehicle operators and CDL holders, and other regulations that affect how we do our work in the school bus community.
DHS: Transportation Security Administration (TSA):
The Transportation Security Administration is one of several entities within the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). As we have seen at various annual conferences and webinars, NAPT has a close working relationship with the TSA and we will continue to collaborate with them on matters related to security for our school buses and our children. These will include sharing bulletins about potential compromises to our security as well as training and protocols for keeping our fleets, our drivers, and our children safe from threats of all forms.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB):
The National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, is an independent investigatory and recommending entity. It has no regulatory authority or role in our government.
NTSB has offered numerous recommendations for increased safety on our roads, waterways, rail systems and in the air. When they make recommendations on school bus safety matters, they will often tag one or more recommendations to the attention of NAPT or other associations with the intent of getting the information out to our constituents and providing education and development opportunities consistent with the recommendation.
NAPT has enjoyed a strong and collegial relationship with the NTSB and in particular the past several chairs and vice-chairs. We look to continue that healthy and productive relationship.
Department of Education (ED):
The Department of Education carries out oversight and provides funding for numerous services and activities within our school systems nationwide. These include regulations and guidance for the delivery of education services to students with disabilities, as well as students who are homeless or in foster care.
While the department does not provide any direct funding to our school systems for school transportation, there are funds available under so-called “TITLE I” programs that can support transportation for students who are homeless or in foster care programs.
The department also is responsible for many of the regulations and provisions related to the reduction of bullying in our schools and on our school buses.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency, as the name would suggest, is directly related to issues of ensuring cleaner air, water and resources. Over the years, we have encountered the Environmental Protection Agency on issues related to school bus idling and emissions. We would expect that the new administration to reinvigorate closer government review and enforcement in these areas as it begins to advance both American and international climate initiatives.
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS):
And with the pandemic, we are hearing more and more from sub-agencies and purpose-driven entities like the Centers for Disease Control. These agencies provide us guidance on health-related matters such as vaccines but also hygiene, personal protections, and safe travel arrangements.
These agencies have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis and response. Accordingly, NAPT will continue to monitor and share information provided by HHS and its sister agencies of CDC and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), as the pandemic continues and as new strategies emerge for its mitigation.
Federal Budget Development
There will also be activity in terms of presentation of an annual budget for the federal government. The new administration must produce a so-called “skinny” budget by the statutory deadline, rather than the full-blown budget document normally produced each year for Congressional action. To the extent that proposals are made by the new administration related to COVID relief for schools, NAPT will keep you informed with basic information and analysis of the funding. We note that there is movement to provide funding for electric-powered and other alternatively fueled school buses and we will be on the alert for such developments on your behalf.
NAPT has always approached various regulatory agencies on a collaborative basis. We work to build relationships with them and assist them in understanding the issues that matter to school transportation operators and professionals. At times, we find ourselves embroiled in a principled debate with agencies over issues like seat belts on school buses (NHTSA) or entry-level driver training rules (FMCSA).
Regardless of those issues, our strong relationships have allowed us to provide you access to the highest levels of those agencies at conferences and webinar settings on a frequent basis.
As the new administration fills out their line-up of cabinet and agency leaders, we will be observing and identifying places we must work harder to build new relationships with new officials. We will share those observations and new faces with you here in these pages of School BUSRide.
Peter Mannella (firstname.lastname@example.org) is chair of the NAPT Public Policy Committee.