Mark Rosekind, administrator of NHTSA, who took office in late December of 2014, is scheduled to appear as a witness before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade in an upcoming US congressional hearing to answer questions about the Takata safety crisis.
The automobile industry has been hit hard the last couple of years with some of the biggest recalls in U.S. history, from the General Motors ignition switch catastrophe last year to this year’s 34 million auto recall for autos equipped with Takata airbags. NHTSA admitted it has failed to protect American consumers for over 10 years.
Rosekind will comment before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade in a prepared statement that “At NHTSA, we address safety risks every day. In my judgment as a safety professional, NHTSA’s lack of resources is a known risk.”
One fallout from the lack of resources has been allowing automakers to call the shots in past investigations concerning safety defects. Documents on NHTSA’s website related to vehicle defect investigations, confirm that the agency would open a defect investigation, then leave a majority of the responsibility to the automaker under investigation. Basically, NHTSA allowed automakers to investigate themselves and turn their findings over to the government—a true recipe for disaster.
Mark Rosekind has said several times since he took office that his agency was “woefully” underfunded and that once he got inside he realized that the situation was more severe than he originally thought. He wants to let the subcommittee know that today’s NHTSA budget, when adjusted for inflation, is 23 times smaller than it was just a decade ago.
NHTSA has used the excuse that they are under-staffed and under-funded and can’t handle the agency’s huge workload to answer questions about why the agency has failed. From all indications, that “excuse” is true. The NHTSA’s enforcement workforce consists of 90 employees, compared to the Federal Railroad Administration of 678 enforcement workers and the Federal Aviation Administration’s 6,409. The agency says it needs about $90 million to hire almost 400 workers in order to handle their heavy casework load. The agency says it would like to hire a “go-team” of investigators, similar to the FAA’s team to investigate crashes involving airplanes. NHTSA’s investigating team would be on call 24/7 to travel into the field and investigate serious defect reports.
What does this mean to drivers? Drivers are likely to have safer vehicles with higher price tags imposed by automakers to recoup the costs associated with meeting more stringent safety regulations.