Now that the government shutdown is over, we can take stock of how the event impacted the trucking industry, and better prepare ourselves in case of a similar situation arising in the future. The most prominent example from the event involved the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the agency responsible for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating energy information, and its closure. This ultimately led to the cancellation of its gas and diesel price update, a key report utilized by fleets for their fuel surcharge. Carriers often use the report when creating contracts with shippers to show evidence of their need to change rates.
We were alerted of the issue last week when EIA spokesman Jonathan Cogan said in a statement. “EIA will need to cease operations and furlough EIA staff at the end of the day on Oct. 11.”
The agency did not publish any fuel data while its employees were furloughed, as Cogan warned.
The report is released every Monday, making even a few weeks of government shutdown potentially very impactful for carriers and shippers trying to stay informed on fuel costs.
“Carriers that rely on the EIA report will have to contact their customers and come to terms on how to handle price movements,” said Glen Sokolis, president of Sokolis Group, a fuel management company, in a recent article on Truckinginfo.com.
One bit of comfort that we can take away from the event is that surcharge changes are typically triggered by a 4-cent change in fuel prices, and prices have been stable for the past few months, making a situation such as this less devastating than it would be in a volatile market.
The issue brought attention to the fact that there are other sources for fuel price information in the private sector, but when investigating those options, we found that the reports can be quite expensive—though given the circumstances, carriers may see the price as a cheaper alternative to the risk of surcharge mistakes.
During the shutdown, the EIA stated its intent restore services "as quickly as possible" after it reopened and advised respondents to continue submitting reports as normally scheduled, which would enable them to maintain continuity of the data.
We’ve yet to see how the data backlog has impacted the now active agency and if it will create a delay in the following week’s reports.
All-in-all the transportation industry weathered the government shutdown well, managing to keep the most necessary agencies active and avoid a large scale transportation incident.