Review of the New Mexico Traffic Safety Bureau's 1999 Annual Report

 

Summary:  

 

 

 

 

The New Traffic Safety Bureau is required to produce a variety of annual reports regarding its traffic safety programs progress and results.  It has combined these diverse reports into a single encompassing document.  Unfortunately, in the process it has subverted the purpose of the Report to serve public relation goals instead, in some cases it has used false statements and tricks of graphic design and phrasing to paint an overly-positive picture of traffic safety in New Mexico and the scope and effectiveness of  the Bureau's programs.  
Contents
Background on Annual Report requirements
The 1999 Annual Report

 

Background

Section 66-7-506 NMSA 1978 of New Mexico State Law requires that the Traffic Safety Bureau produce an annual report as follows:

The bureau shall have the following powers and duties:

...
I. prepare and submit each year a written report to the governor concerning the activities of the bureau and activities concerning assistance to local organizations and officials;
...

Section 66-7-373 NMSA 1978 of New Mexico State Statutes states:

...
C. The traffic safety bureau of the state highway and transportation department shall evaluate the effectiveness of the Safety Belt Use Act and shall include a report of its findings in the annual evaluation report on its highway safety plan that it submits to the national highway traffic safety administration and the federal highway administration under 23 U.S.C. 402.
...

Title 23 Sec. 1200.33 of the Code of Federal Regulations requires an Annual report from the state to USDOT as a condition of receiving federal highway safety assistance funds.  It provides that:

Within 90 days after the end of the fiscal year, each State shall submit an Annual Report. This report shall describe: 
(a) The State's progress in meeting its highway safety goals, using performance measures identified in the Performance Plan. Both Baseline and most current level of performance under each measure will be given for each goal. 
(b) How the projects and activities funded during the fiscal year contributed to meeting the State's highway safety goals. Where data becomes available, a State should report progress from prior year projects that have contributed to meeting current State highway safety goals.

[62 FR 34402, June 26, 1997, as amended at 64 FR 40764, July 28, 1999]

For whatever reason, current Bureau management has chosen to submit a single document serving these multiple purposes.

 

The 1999 Annual Report

The Bureau submitted its 1999 Annual Report in a slick, glossy form, produced under a sizeable contract to UNM for fancy graphic design, ghost writing, and slick printing.  In contrast with various earlier reports that served the various purposes required above, the new one seems calculated mainly as a public relations vehicle to promote positive thinking about the Department's and Bureau's current management.  There are scarcely any negative messages conveyed, nor any meaningful evaluation.  Tricks of phrasing and graphic layout are used to hide bad news, and many of the facts and statistics in the report are wrong, always in the direction of exaggerating the progress of the Bureau's programs.

Despite the slick design, for some reason the Bureau chose not to put the Report online on their website.  Unfortunately.

The heart of the Report under federal requirements should be its report of progress in meeting the Bureau's Highway Safety Goals.  You can see the single page that is supposed to meet that requirement, annotated to show the reality associate with each misleading claim, at

Performance Goals  (Adobe Acrobat format) 

The Report clearly doesn't comply with the 66-7-373 state requirement cited above that the Bureau report findings of an evaluation of the Safety Belt Use Act's effectiveness.  Neither does it completely or honestly report progress and lack thereof regarding the Bureau's performance goals, as the federal regulation requires. nor does it report progress from prior year projects that have contributed to meeting its current goals where data has become available.  A vast range of data was newly available at the time the Report was written regarding progress (or lack thereof) from prior year projects, but none was included.  Since (oddly) the federal rule only requires reporting positive results and not failure to deliver such progress, as honest evaluations would do, perhaps this is just a sign that Bureau management feels those projects made no identifiable contribution. 

Department and Bureau management are responsible for compliance with state and federal law, so the Report's failure to comply with state law is on their shoulders -- they haven't taken any enforcement action against themselves, thus far, for the failure.  Various auditors are required to compare the agency's performance to statutory requirements and good management and accounting practice, but this aspect of the Bureau's operations is unlikely to fall within the limited scope resources allow auditors to apply to reviewing state agencies' performance.  The USDOT notified the State that in the view of the official with direct oversight of New Mexico the Report did comply with the regulations above, but no details about how the federal officials explain away the specific deficiencies compared to the regulation to accept the Report anyway have been located.  It appears USDOT, concerned about a wide range of management challenges the Bureau already faced, chose to look the other way to avoid embarrassing the State for its non-compliance.  We shall hope the State does better for their 2000 Annual Report.

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Produced by Steven Flint, December 10, 2000