PAMSP, PennDOT and the lack of legislative oversight.

If you look at the description of Legislative “Oversight Committees” or their members in Pennsylvania they include such catch-phrases describing their ‘mission’ as “to provide better legislative oversight on how tax dollars are spent and how state agencies operate”, “increase regulatory review oversight, transparency” or “to restore accountability, oversight and transparency”.

In fact it turns out these phrases are simply clever marketing used to cover political actions, typically those being taken against their rival party members.

Having spent months contacting Legislators, including those with direct responsibility for the oversight of PennDOT & transportation in the Commonwealth, what we’ve found is that while most don’t even know what PAMSP (Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program) is, once you’ve explained it to them they have zero motivation to get involved.

PennDOT, created over 50 years ago, would see the Pennsylvania transportation budget of $12 million in 1970 increase to nearly $5 billion (revenues/expenditures) in 2019. With that kind of spending – PennDOT spends as much as it takes in annually – comes a ton of political power and with power, one would think, an opportunity for increased oversight…

While the PAMSP budget isn’t transparent (it is funded exclusively by motorcyclists via permit and licensing fees) if PAMSP’s spending potential was $4 million per year it would represent 2% of total “Driver & Vehicle Services” departmental expenditures but less than 1% (0.078%) of all PennDOT expenditures in 2019.

PennDOT pays PAMSP vendors only on the number of students taught so in any given year the PAMSP fund may spend 1/4 to 3/4 of it’s available revenue on training students. This means that annually PA spends more on “incidental expenditures” for the PA Senate and nearly 2X that of than the PA House for “incidental expenditures” than it does for motorcycle training across the entire Commonwealth.

Motorcycles are seen as a convenience, not a required form of transport, and those who undertake the ‘sport’ are taking risks into their own hands. As long as the number of deaths is at an acceptable level the general population isn’t really going to take notice and so the phones of politicians won’t start ringing in statistically significant numbers to force them to take notice, or it may impact their prospects of reelection.

It’s an unfortunate fact but in order for Politicians to care about the state of the PAMSP more motorcyclists will have to perish, have the situation rise to the point of being noticeable to the voting public at which point “oversight” committees will step in to assess and apply blame & leverage the situation to their political advantage.

PAMSP is unique within the Commonwealth, and across the nation, and at one point was a shining example for Programs across the country – but unless you were part of the motorcycle training community, a PA motorcyclist or needed to include it in your annual report as an example of program effectiveness… you wouldn’t have known about it.

As has been mentioned before the 2020 PAMSP contact cancellation, first time in +30yrs, had violated 2 statutory requirements – a perfect time for those in an oversight capacity to take action. Due to their inaction PennDOT was able to develop workarounds to both and, in the process, give the legislature (who is not really paying attention to PAMSP normally) the appearance that progress is being made.

PAMSP hasn’t been suffering from a funding problem over the last 10 years, it’s been suffering a management problem. Exactly the type of problem that “oversight” was meant to prevent, or at least address, but the type of problem that continues to exist as those responsible for oversight can’t be bothered to get engaged, or even return a phone call.

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