Qualcomm wins contract to put OmniTRACS system in U.S. and Mexican trucks in open-border program

Qualcomm Omnitracs SystemWASHINGTON – Qualcomm has won a federal contract to provide a satellite-based tracking system for U.S. and Mexican trucks participating in a contentious experiment that opens the border to long-haul commercial traffic.

Federal officials said yesterday that the San Diego-based company’s OmniTRACS system will allow the U.S. government to closely monitor trucks from both countries, including compliance with regulations that prohibit truckers from driving more than 11 hours per day.

Although Qualcomm is best-known for its prominent role as a chip-maker in the wireless industry, the company also is a major designer of satellite tracking systems for vehicles.

Qualcomm will provide tracking technology for 100 trucks at a cost of $367,000, officials said.

U.S. transportation officials hope the tracking system will soften congressional opposition to the two-month-old pilot project. Five carriers from Mexico and three from the United States are participating in the program, which is limited to a maximum of 100 carriers from each country.

“The big thing that it does is give an independent verification of all the things that we’ve been saying,” said John Hill, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. “It adds support to the idea that we’re serious about enforcing these regulations.”

The system will track the number of hours that trucks are on the road, when they cross the border, where they stop and their speeds, Hill said.

The Qualcomm contract can be canceled at any time.

Both the House and Senate have passed bills to end the pilot project, but they have yet to craft a compromise bill to send to President Bush.

Bush supports the program as a first step toward opening the border to long-haul commercial traffic as required by the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The pilot project has drawn opposition from the Teamsters union and several transportation and safety organizations. Critics say the government has failed to guarantee that Mexican trucks will abide by the same safety standards as U.S. trucks.

Teamsters spokeswoman Leslie Miller blasted the satellite surveillance plan.

She said that if the Department of Transportation “is entering into a . . . contract with Qualcomm to monitor the Mexican truck program, which in all likelihood will be shut down very soon, then they are truly wasting the taxpayers’ money.”

Qualcomm welcomed the contract, saying in a written statement that “after a careful selection process, it is gratifying that (the government has) concluded that Qualcomm’s product is the best wireless communications solution to help meet their requirements.”

The company declined to answer further questions about the contract, which is in the form of an interagency agreement between the Department of Transportation and the U.S. Army.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration at first planned to award the contract to Qualcomm without competition, saying it had determined that no other company could meet the specifications. After objections were raised by competitors, the agency canceled plans to award a no-bid contract but also determined that it would take too long to go through the regular bidding process, agency spokesman Melissa Mazzella DeLaney said.

Instead, the agency contracted with Qualcomm through an interagency agreement with the Army, which DeLaney said has procurement agreements with Qualcomm and several other suppliers. She said Qualcomm outbid other Army suppliers to provide the system.

“We wanted to get this system on our vehicles . . . as quickly as we could,” she said.