Obama angers many with lobbyist pick

President Barack Obama’s nomination of a trucking industry lobbyist to head the agency that regulates the industry drew fire Wednesday from senators and safety advocates.

Anne Ferro, the president and CEO of the Maryland Motor Truck Association for the past six years, was named to head the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a troubled agency that has been widely criticized for allowing safety recommendations to languish for years without action.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., told Ferro at a Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, that the motor carrier administration is “an agency in dire need of reform.”

“Given your ties, Ms. Ferro, to the trucking industry … I am concerned about your ability to take the bold action we need to keep Americans safe,” Lautenberg said.

Ferro described herself as a safety advocate, pointing to her record as head of Maryland’s motor vehicle administration, where she pushed for phased-in driving privileges for teens and interlock devices to prevent drunk drivers from operating vehicles.

“My passion is highway safety,” Ferro said.

The Truck Safety Coalition, an umbrella group for organizations concerned about dangers posed by trucks, described Ferro in a statement submitted to the Senate commerce committee as “apologist for the trucking industry.”

Ferro has defended a Bush administration decision to increase the number of consecutive hours truck drivers can work and the number of hours per week a driver can be on road.

In a letter to The Baltimore Sun co-signed with an official for the American Trucking Associations, Ferro said the regulation improved safety by, among other things, lengthening the required rest period for drivers.

Safety advocates and some lawmakers said the new regulation would increase driver fatigue, a factor in many truck accidents.

Opponents challenged the rule in court, and prevailed, at least in part, on two occasions.

Lautenberg pressed Ferro to promise she will require the trucking industry install devices in trucks that record when the vehicle is turned on and off. The information is used to calculate if drivers are exceeding limits on the number of hours they can drive.

Ferro refused to be pinned down, committing only to a review of research on the devices.

Lautenberg noted that many countries, including all the European Union countries, require the devices.

During the presidential campaign, Obama promised to keep lobbyists at arm’s length. Shortly after taking office, he issued an executive order barring any former federally registered lobbyists who join his administration from dealing with matters or agencies related to their lobbying work. Nor could they join agencies they had lobbied in the previous two years.

Ferro lobbied state government. She is registered as a lobbyist with the Maryland State Ethics Commission, and lists a range of transportation and truck-related issues in her registration.