ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
It's not often that we bring you news of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. It oversees truck safety issues. A Senate panel is considering President Obama's nominee to head that agency, and she has attracted criticism because she used to be the top trucking lobbyist in the state of Maryland.
As NPR's Brian Naylor reports, the critics point to the president's pledge not to put lobbyists in key government posts.
BRIAN NAYLOR: For six years, Anne Ferro was president and CEO of the Maryland Motor Truck Association, a group affiliated with the American Trucking Associations. Her biggest sin, in the eyes of safety advocates, was her signature on a letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun. The letter supported a Bush administration attempt to extend the number of consecutive hours that truck drivers could legally operate their rigs.
For Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, Ferro is not the person to head an agency that he says is in dire need of reform.
Senator FRANK LAUTENBERG (Democrat, New Jersey): Given your ties, Ms. Ferro, to the truck industry as head of the Maryland Motor Truck Association, I am concerned about your ability to take the bold action that we needed to keep Americans safe.
NAYLOR: Lautenberg wants trucks to be equipped with onboard recorders, known as EOBRs, to make sure drivers comply with hours-of-service rules, something the industry and the government has resisted. At her confirmation hearing last month, Ferro was noncommittal.
Ms. ANNE FERRO (Former President and Chief Executive Officer, Maryland Motor Truck Association): In the interest of advancing the safety mandate and my personal mission, the safety mandate of this agency if confirmed, where EOBR is a valuable safety tool, I am absolutely committed to advancing measures to achieve that.
Sen. LAUTENBERG: You are conditioning it based on discoveries yet to be made.
NAYLOR: Before becoming the trucking industry's top lobbyist in Maryland, Ferro served as head of the state's Motor Vehicle Administration. She told the Senate panel she has a passionate commitment to safety and a record to prove it.
Ms. FERRO: And that record includes implementing a very effective graduated driver's licensing law in Maryland, identifying and working closely with the Medical Advisory Board in Maryland on innovative older driver research and remediation, as well as interlock devices for drunk drivers.
NAYLOR: If confirmed, Ferro pledged to be what she called a fair and balanced regulator. Safety advocates, however, are not convinced. In a letter to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which will vote on her nomination, the Truck Safety Coalition called her, quote, "an apologist for the trucking industry." Highway safety advocate Joan Claybrook.
Ms. JOAN CLAYBROOK (Highway Safety Advocate): Whether somebody who has worked for the trucking industry for six to seven years in the top position in a state should be the regulator of the trucking industry for the nation, particularly when there are 5,000 deaths a year and over 100,000 tragic and horrible injuries every year.
NAYLOR: What troubles Claybrook and other critics even more is President Obama's nomination of Ferro in the first place. The president signed an executive order barring any former federally registered lobbyists from joining his administration. Ferro lobbied state government, but Claybrook says that's close enough.
Ms. CLAYBROOK: It really runs in the face of the spirit, anyway, of President Obama's attempt to not have lobbyists managing major federal regulatory agencies.
NAYLOR: There's no word yet on when the committee plans to vote on Ferro's nomination.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.