Commercial Shipping: Information on How Intermodal Chassis Are Made Available and the Federal Government’s Oversight Role

What GAO Found

Containerized shipping—performed by oceangoing vessels using standardized shipping containers—accounted for approximately 60 percent of all world seaborne trade, which was valued at approximately $12 trillion in 2017. At a port, shipping containers are placed on “intermodal chassis” (chassis), standardized trailers that carry shipping containers and attach to tractors for land transport. Multiple entities are involved in the movement of shipping containers, including intermodal equipment providers (IEP) (which own and provide chassis for a fee); ocean carriers (which transport cargo over water); and motor carriers (which transport shipping containers over land via chassis).

Four distinct models are used in the U.S. to make chassis available to motor carriers (see table), each with benefits and drawbacks according to the entities GAO interviewed. While chassis are generally provided to motor carriers using one of these four models, more than one model may be available at a port.

Chassis Provisioning Models

Model 1: Single chassis provider An individual intermodal equipment provider (IEP) owns chassis that are directly provided to shippers or motor carriers.
Model 2: Motor carrier-controlled A motor carrier owns or is responsible for a chassis that it has procured under a long-term lease.
Model 3: Gray pool A single manager, often a third party, oversees the operations of a pool that is made up of chassis contributed by multiple IEPs.
Model 4: Pool-of-pools Each IEP manages its respective chassis fleet, but each allow motor carriers to use any chassis among the fleets and to pick up and drop off chassis at any of the IEPs’ multiple locations.

Source: GAO.  |  GAO-21-315R

Entities GAO interviewed identified multiple benefits and drawbacks to each of the chassis provisioning models. Regarding benefits, for example, both the single chassis provider model and the motor carrier-controlled model allow IEPs and motor carriers to have direct control over the maintenance and repair of their chassis, something these entities potentially lose under other chassis provisioning models. Further, the gray pool and the pool-of-pools models can resolve many of the logistical concerns regarding the availability of chassis, leading to operational efficiencies for port operators and the ability of motor carriers to choose whatever chassis they wish. Regarding drawbacks, cost considerations were identified in some cases. For example, under the single chassis provider model, two IEPs told us that while an expected part of the business, repositioning chassis to ensure there is a sufficient supply of chassis where they are needed can be costly to the IEPs.

The federal government provides oversight of chassis safety but has a limited economic oversight role regarding chassis. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) employs several inspection methods to help oversee chassis safety and compliance with regulations. For example, inspectors perform roadside inspections on commercial vehicles, including chassis, in operation. FMCSA also performs investigations of individual IEPs to oversee chassis safety. While one stakeholder GAO spoke with stated that FMCSA should consider maintaining safety ratings for IEPs—as is currently done for motor carriers—FMCSA officials told us that the current processes provide sufficient information to select IEPs for investigation. The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) oversees ocean carriers that provide service to and from the U.S. and works to ensure a competitive and reliable ocean transportation supply system. Entities may file complaints with FMC to allege violations of the Shipping Act of 1984, as amended. One such complaint was filed in August 2020, in which the complainants allege, among other things, that although ocean carriers do not own chassis, they still control the operation of chassis pools at ports. An initial decision on this complaint is expected in August 2021. None of the entities GAO spoke with identified additional actions they would like for FMC to take regarding chassis.

Why GAO Did This Study

Senate Report 116-109—incorporated by reference into the explanatory statement accompanying the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020—contained a provision for GAO to study intermodal chassis. Within the U.S., some entities have expressed concerns about chassis, including limited availability of chassis in some circumstances, as well as the age and safety of chassis. This report describes selected stakeholders’ views on: (1) the ways in which chassis are made available for the movement of shipping containers and the benefits and drawbacks of those models, and (2) the federal government’s role in the chassis market.

To address these objectives, GAO reviewed relevant reports on chassis provisioning and federal oversight. GAO interviewed representatives from FMC, FMCSA, five industry associations, and the three largest intermodal equipment providers. GAO also interviewed three ocean carriers, five port operators, and a motor carrier selected, in part, for their large number of container movements. The information obtained from these interviews provides a broad perspective of relevant issues but is not generalizable to all entities.

For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.

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    In the years before the economic shock from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) and others assessed the potential risks to financial stability that leveraged loans and collateralized loan obligation (CLO) securities may pose. Generally, leveraged loans are those made to businesses with poor credit and high debt, and CLO securities are backed by these loans. FSOC and others found that riskier borrower profiles and looser underwriting standards left leveraged lending market participants vulnerable to losses in the event of a downturn. After the COVID-19 shock in March 2020, loans suffered record downgrades and increased defaults, but the highest-rated CLO securities remained resilient. Although regulators monitoring the effects of the pandemic remain cautious, as of September 2020, they had not found that leveraged lending presented significant threats to financial stability. Based on regulators' assessments, leveraged lending activities had not contributed significantly to the distress of any large financial entity whose failure could threaten financial stability. Large banks' strong capital positions have allowed them to manage their leveraged lending exposures, and the exposure of insurers and other investors also appeared manageable. Mutual funds experienced redemptions by investors but were able to meet them in part by selling leveraged loan holdings. While this may have put downward pressure on already-distressed loan prices, based on regulators' assessments, distressed leveraged loan prices did not pose a potential threat to financial stability. Present-day CLO securities appear to pose less of a risk to financial stability than did similar securities during the 2007–2009 financial crisis, according to regulators and market participants. For example, CLO securities have better investor protections, are more insulated from market swings, and are not widely tied to other risky, complex instruments. FSOC monitors leveraged-lending-related risks primarily through its monthly Systemic Risk Committee meetings, but opportunities exist to enhance FSOC's abilities to respond to financial stability threats. FSOC identified leveraged lending activities as a source of potential risk to financial stability before the COVID-19 shock and recommended continued monitoring and analysis. However, FSOC does not conduct tabletop or similar scenario-based exercises where participants discuss roles and responses to hypothetical emergency scenarios. As a result, FSOC is missing an opportunity to enhance preparedness and test members' coordinated response to financial stability risks. Further, as GAO reported in 2016, FSOC does not generally have clear authority to address broader risks that are not specific to a particular financial entity, such as risks from leveraged lending. GAO recommended that Congress consider better aligning FSOC's authorities with its mission to respond to systemic risks, but Congress had not done so as of September 2020. GAO maintains that changes such as broader designation authority would help FSOC respond to risks from activities that involve many regulators, such as leveraged lending. The market for institutional leveraged loans grew from an estimated $0.5 trillion in 2010 to $1.2 trillion in 2019, fueled largely by investor demand for CLO securities. Some observers and regulators have drawn comparisons to the pre-2008 subprime mortgage market, noting that loan origination and securitization may similarly spread risks to the financial system. These fears are being tested by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly affected leveraged businesses. This report examines assessments by regulators, FSOC, and others—both before and after the COVID-19 shock to the economy—of the potential risks to financial stability stemming from leveraged lending activities, and the extent to which FSOC monitors and responds to risks from broad-based activities like leveraged lending, among other objectives. GAO examined agency and private data on market size and investor exposures; reviewed agency, industry, and international reports; and interviewed federal financial regulators and industry participants. GAO recommends that the Secretary of the Treasury, as Chairperson of FSOC, conduct scenario-based exercises intended to evaluate capabilities for responding to crises. GAO also reiterates its 2016 recommendation (GAO-16-175) that Congress consider legislative changes to align FSOC's authorities with its mission. FSOC neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but said that it would take further actions if it determined necessary. For more information, contact Michael E. Clements at (202) 512-8678 or ClementsM@gao.gov.
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  • Briefing with Senior State Department Official on the Secretary’s Upcoming Travel to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Cairo, and Amman
    In Crime Control and Security News
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Five Charged in Scheme to Export Thermal Imaging Scopes and Night Vision Goggles to Russia, in Violation of Arms Export Control Act
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Los Angeles unsealed an indictment Thursday that accuses five defendants of conspiring to unlawfully export defense articles to Russia. Specifically, the defendants allegedly exported thermal imaging riflescopes and night-vision goggles without a license, in violation of the Arms Export Control Act.
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  • Veterans Affairs: VA Needs to Address Persistent IT Modernization and Cybersecurity Challenges
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has faced challenges in its efforts to accomplish three critical information technology (IT) modernization initiatives: the department's health information system, known as the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA); a system for the Family Caregiver Program, which is to support family caregivers of seriously injured post-9/11 veterans; and the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) that collects and stores information and is used for processing disability benefit claims. Specifically, GAO has reported on the challenges in the department's three previous unsuccessful attempts to modernize VistA over the past 20 years. However, VA has recently deployed a new scheduling system as part of its fourth effort to modernize VistA and the next deployment of the system, including additional capabilities, is planned in October 2020. VA had taken steps to address GAO's recommendations from its 2014 report to implement a replacement system for the Family Caregiver Program. However, in September 2019, GAO reported that VA had yet to implement a new IT system that fully supports the Family Caregiver Program and that it had not yet fully committed to a date by which it will certify that the new IT system fully supports the program. In September 2015, GAO reported that VA had made progress in developing and implementing VBMS, but also noted that additional actions could improve efforts to develop and use the system. For example, VBMS was not able to fully support disability and pension claims, as well as appeals processing. GAO made five recommendations aimed at improving VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS; however, as of September 2020, VA implemented only one recommendation. VA's progress in implementing key provisions of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (commonly referred to as FITARA) has been uneven. Specifically, VA has made progress toward improving its licensing of software and achieving its goals for closing unneeded data centers. However, the department has made limited progress toward addressing requirements related to IT investment risk management and Chief Information Officer authority enhancement. Until the department implements the act's provisions, Congress' ability to effectively monitor VA's progress and hold it fully accountable for reducing duplication and achieving cost savings will be hindered. In addition, since fiscal year 2016, GAO has reported that VA faces challenges related to effectively implementing the federal approach to, and strategy for, securing information systems; effectively implementing information security controls and mitigating known security deficiencies; and establishing elements of its cybersecurity risk management program. GAO's work stressed the need for VA to address these challenges as well as manage IT supply chain risks. As VA continues to pursue modernization efforts, it is critical that the department take steps to adequately secure its systems. The use of IT is crucial to helping VA effectively serve the nation's veterans. The department annually spends billions of dollars on its information systems and assets—VA's budget for IT now exceeds $4 billion annually. However, over many years, VA has experienced challenges in managing its IT projects and programs, which could jeopardize its ability to effectively support key programs such as the Forever GI Bill. GAO has previously reported on these IT management challenges at VA. GAO was asked to testify on its prior IT work at VA. Specifically, this testimony summarizes results and recommendations from GAO's issued reports that examined VA's efforts in (1) modernizing VistA, a system for the Family Caregiver Program, and VBMS; (2) implementing FITARA; and (3) addressing cybersecurity issues. In developing this testimony, GAO reviewed its recently issued reports that addressed IT management issues at VA and GAO's biannual high-risk series. GAO also incorporated information on the department's actions in response to recommendations. GAO has made numerous recommendations in recent years aimed at improving VA's IT system modernization efforts, implementation of key FITARA provisions, and cybersecurity program. VA has generally agreed with the recommendations and has begun to address them. For more information, contact Carol C. Harris at (202) 512-4456 or harriscc@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Finds Yale Illegally Discriminates Against Asians and Whites in Undergraduate Admissions in Violation of Federal Civil-Rights Laws
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice today notified Yale University of its findings that Yale illegally discriminates against Asian American and white applicants in its undergraduate admissions process in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The findings are the result of a two-year investigation in response to a complaint by Asian American groups concerning Yale’s conduct.   
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  • The United States Designates ISIS Financial Facilitators
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at Announcement of Pattern or Practice Investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department
    In Crime News
    Good morning.  Like so many of you, I have closely watched the events in Minnesota. Although the state’s prosecution was successful, I know that nothing can fill the void that the loved ones of George Floyd have felt since his death. My heart goes out to them and to all those who have experienced similar loss. 
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Former NGO Procurement Official Sentenced to Prison for Bribery
    In Crime News
    A former non-governmental organization (NGO) official was sentenced today to 40 months in prison for paying bribes to NGO officers in exchange for sensitive procurement information related to NGO contracts funded in part by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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    In Crime News
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  • California Man Charged with COVID-Relief Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Los Angeles, California, returned an indictment on April 13, charging a California man with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
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  • Law Firms Representing Purdue Pharma Agree to Relinquish $1 Million in Settlement with U.S. Trustee Program
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s U.S. Trustee Program (USTP) has entered into a settlement with three law firms representing Purdue Pharma (Purdue) in its ongoing bankruptcy cases. The firms are Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP; Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP; and Dechert LLP (the Firms). 
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  • Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Robert A. Zink Delivers Remarks at Virtual GIR Live Interactive: Regional Spotlight-North America
    In Crime News
    It’s wonderful to speak with you here this morning. And I’m sorry we can’t do this in person. But I’m still delighted to have the opportunity to be here to say a few words about white-collar criminal enforcement, albeit virtually.
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    In Justice News
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    In Climate - Environment - Conservation
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Man Sentenced to 97 months in Prison for Role in International Credit Card Fraud and Money Laundering Conspiracy
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Federal Court Bars Florida Tax Preparation Businesses and Their Tax Return Preparers From Preparing Tax Returns
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that a federal court in Orlando, Florida, permanently enjoined Advanced Tax Services Inc. and Genson Financial Group LLC from preparing federal tax returns for others and ordered the businesses to disgorge $710,191.55, jointly and severally, representing the ill-gotten gains that they received for the preparation of tax returns. The court also entered permanent injunctions and disgorgement judgments against defendants Lenorris Lamoute and Dosuld Pierre, whom the court found prepared tax returns for compensation at Advanced Tax Services. The order was entered on default because the defendants failed to defend against the government’s allegations.
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  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Colombian Foreign Minister Blum
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Bankruptcy Filings Fall Sharply for Second Straight Quarter
    In U.S Courts
    Despite continued high unemployment related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, personal and business bankruptcy filings fell 21.1 percent for the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2020, according to statistics released by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
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  • The Department of State Breaks Ground on the New U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai, Thailand
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Government Contractor Admits Scheme to Inflate Costs on Federal Projects and Pays $11 Million to Resolve Criminal and Civil Probes
    In Crime News
    Schneider Electric Buildings Americas Inc. (Schneider Electric), a nationwide provider of electricity solutions for buildings and data centers with its principal place of business in Carrollton, Texas, will pay $11 million to resolve criminal and civil investigations relating to kickbacks and overcharges on eight federally-funded energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs), the Department of Justice announced today. Under the contracts, Schneider Electric was to install a variety of energy savings upgrades, such as solar panels, LED lighting, and insulation, in federal buildings.
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  • New York Businessman Pleads Guilty to Tax Evasion
    In Crime News
    A Woodsburgh, New York, businessman pleaded guilty today to tax evasion, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
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  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Libyan Interim Foreign Minister Mangoush
    In Crime Control and Security News
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