Defense Dept. ending popular bus inspection program

WASHINGTON  — The U.S. Department of Defense is ending the Passenger Safety Inspection Program that accredits bus, van and limousine carriers for military personnel movements and often has been viewed as a seal of approval for participating operators.

Consolidated Safety Services (CSS), which conducted the inspections throughout the program’s 28-year history, was notified last month that the Defense Human Resources Activity Procurement Support Office would not exercise its option for the final year of the current five-year contract.

CSS performed the Passenger Safety Inspection Program (PSIP) audits for the Defense Travel Management Office (DTMO), which was created in 2006 to unify management of chartered passenger services for the military branches. The office website described its work as a “multibillion-dollar travel enterprise.”

“We have been informed that this decision was made in the best interest of the Department of Defense, and is in no way an indication of our performance for the government,” said Jolanda Janczewski, chairman of the board of directors of CSS.

Because motorcoach companies are closely alike, DoD approval and other certifications give your company a special place amongst all companies and could be a deciding factor when a group has to make a choice of their motorcoach provider.

“In recent conversations with the Defense Travel Management Office, we were assured they have been pleased with everything we have done and they recognize and respect the significant contribution we have made to the Department of Defense.”

She said DTMO officials told her they are discussing an information sharing agreement with the Department of Transportation, which enforces safety regulations and monitors carrier compliance through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

“I will miss it,” said Brian Scott, president of Escot Bus Lines in Orlando, Fla.. “The DoD inspection had a consistency to it that is sorely lacking at FMCSA in recent years.”

Marcia Milton hopes the procedural change will not diminish the prestige of being a military travel provider.

“DoD approval was a marketing tool for our company,” said Milton, president of First Priority Trailways in District Heights, Md. “Because motorcoach companies are closely alike, DoD approval and other certifications give your company a special place amongst all companies and could be a deciding factor when a group has to make a choice of their motorcoach provider.”

The Defense Department’s list of approved “bus, van and limo carriers” includes 450 contacts, with some representing additional locations for carriers operating from multiple states.

DTMO administrators did not respond to an interview request prior to deadline. Their website still advised that carriers seeking Department of Defense approval must “undergo rigorous onsite safety inspections that include facility, terminal, and equipment every two years per the Passenger Safety Inspection Program. Carriers will be subject to unscheduled safety inspections to monitor continued compliance.”

Another section of the website added, “DTMO has embarked on a major initiative to transform the Defense Travel Enterprise. As our strategy and way ahead, this effort is designed to improve delivery of travel services, maximize policy understanding and compliance, improve cost-effectiveness across the Defense Travel Enterprise, provide a positive customer experience that drives high satisfaction, and maximize control and visibility into travel spend.”

A 1985 charter airline crash led to federal legislation requiring commercial carrier inspections for military travel. The crash killed 248 members of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division shortly after takeoff from Gander, Newfoundland.

The DC-8 attempted to take off despite iced wings, passenger weight miscalculations and several mechanical difficulties. A subsequent investigation by the General Accounting Office found that charter air carriers with military contracts exhibited more safety issues than commercial airlines overall.

Three-quarters of military charter airlines were rated in the bottom 50 percentiles in national inspections.

CSS earned the first contract for the Passenger Safety Inspection Program and continued to win the contracts that followed. The current $4.5-million, five-year contract was awarded on June 5, 2013.

“Every government agency retains the right to not exercise an option or continue a contract,” Janczewski said.

Technically, non-renewal is justified when it is “in the best interests of the government.”

“We respect that,” Janczewski said. “We have been in government contracting for nearly 30 years, so we get it. We may not like it, but we understand it.”

She does not believe the changing of presidential administrations in Washington prompted the decision.

“I don’t have that feeling,” she said. “It always is incumbent on every agency to review all procurements then decide to continue, not continue or do it in-house. Everybody is under tight pressure.”

CSS had conducted more than 40,000 vehicle inspections, 20,000 corporate inspections and 4,000 spot inspections for the Department of Defense, Janczewski said.

The reviews investigated compliance with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and issues unique to military operations, she said.

“The military also had us do roadside driver and vehicle inspections at military bases when they were doing troop movements.”

DoD carrier status is not used as a marketing tool by Vandalia Bus Lines, but it did view PSIP feedback as a valuable management tool, said Dennis Streif, vice president of the Caseyville, Ill., operator.

“We always liked it when Consolidated Safety came and did their inspections for the DoD,” Streif said. “Even though we think we operate top-notch, it’s always good to have another set of eyes come in periodically and look over your facility, records and vehicle. We’re definitely going to miss them.”

Carriers expressed concerns that the quantity and quality of inspections will decline without PSIP.

“DoD would get to you every 24 months,” Streif said. “Some people can get under DOT’s radar for quite a while — if you are a small operator and haven’t had any accidents, you could go for five or six years without an inspection.”

Scott added that the DoD rating system was better because it ranked operators on a scale of 1 to 5, rather than satisfactory, conditional or unsatisfactory.

CSS said it would continue to provide motor carrier safety reviews for its other clients, such as the GoGround/NCAA partnership for collegiate athletics and primary and secondary municipal school districts.

“We have still got the same inspection crew out there,” Janczewski said. “We are still excited to be here and hopefully we will be back with the military.”

Ken Presley, vice president of industry relations and chief operating officer at the United Motorcoach Association, praised the professionals at CSS for the many years of service they provided the motorcoach industry.

“The lives saved and crashes that never happened reached far beyond the military and for many operations the Number 1 rating was a source of pride,” Presley said. “The members at CSS were always more than just ‘government contractors,’ with their advice and guidance the hallmark of professionalism.”

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