By on February 24, 2010

Before Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood even took the stand before the House Energy Committee, the Washington Post [via TheCarConnection] reported that:

NHTSA officials told investigators that the agency doesn’t employ any electrical engineers or software engineers.

Down on the Potomac, zingers like that go over like an ounce of catnip in a phone booth full of rowdy toms. And sure enough, the question came up at LaHood’s testimony. In fact, it came up twice. And it was the closest thing to a real “gotcha” moment in a long day of testimony.

The first time the awkwardness was broached, Rep. Bobby Rush gently asked for clarification on the point. “We have electrical engineers,” LaHood insisted. “We have 125 engineers, and some of them are electrical engineers.” He then went on to suggest that the planned funding increase for 66 new positions would help bolster these ranks. “We’re moving away from stagnation,” he concluded.

Unsatisfied with the answer, Rep Bart Stupak noted that NHTSA staff had indicated during the committee’s investigation that “NHTSA has no electric engineers… they have some engineers who have taken some classes,” before trailing away to allow LaHood to make his blustery defense. “I’m sworn to tell the truth, Mr. Chairman,” steamed LaHood. “I wouldn’t be lying about engineers, I’ll tell you that. If I’m going to lie about something, it’s not going to be engineers.” When Stupak noted his amazement that committee staff hadn’t heard that NHTSA had electrical engineers on staff and available to the Office of Defect Investigation, LaHood simply smiled and said nothing.

The issue might have been left at that, if Rep Charles Martinez hadn’t brought it up one more time. Finally, LaHood admitted the truth that he had evaded through two lines of questioning from other committee members, saying:

We have two electrical engineers

So now we know. Unfortunately, like the rest of yesterday’s hearings, responsibility for this embarrassment traces back to lax congressional oversight as much as anything else. Which might be why the most embarrassing detail was conveniently left out. As USA Today reports, 18 months ago the DOT had one employee who made more than $170,000 per year. Today, the DOT pays 1,690 employees over $170k. In light of this, the NHTSA’s blindness to the proliferation of electronic systems in automobiles is just plain unforgivable.

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19 Comments on “NHTSA Has Electrical Engineers… But Where?...”


  • avatar
    mtymsi

    You’re kidding right? DOT has 1,690 employees they pay over $170k/yr?

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      That price makes it almost worth having to live in DC… Where can I sign up?

    • 0 avatar
      sastexan

      @segfault – Believe you me, not sure where you would be coming from but it most likely still isn’t worth living here in DC. Not if you care about cars, driving, reasonable development policies, prefer unselfish people, weather…

      Yes I’m having a bad day knowing MORE snow is coming here. Just what I needed – something else to further resent living in this hole.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      That is astounding. How did they get that many people to get paid that much money. That is gov’t waste for you.

    • 0 avatar
      lprocter1982

      @sastexan: Now you know what it’s like living in most of Canada east of the Rockies every year. But not this year – sunny days, virtually no snow on the ground, warm (+3 or so Celsius) just beautiful here in Oakville, Ont. It’s so nice, letting others have the snow this year…

  • avatar
    jackc10

    Do not even assume that the two NHTSA “Electrical Engineers” now on board are BSEE graduates of a credential filled program with a campus.

    Most likely they have some sort of federal training substitute based on job experience, meetings, starting off employment as a clerk or a maintenance person. If the two have any formal education past trade school, it will likely be of the DeVry University type. The engineer designation has to more to do with pay grade, rather than license or real academic credentials.

    I have to deal with them often.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    We’re talking the government here. Ya think they actually use folks who have real educations? They want folks with sponge degrees like sociology and womyn’s eddykation……(NIST and other tech entities excepted, of course).

    • 0 avatar
      leeharvey418

      Thank you for providing a voice of reason. I used to work at NIST, and I can tell you that you can’t throw a paper airplane without hitting a PhD in that place. There was a guy in the office next to ours that you would never guess had anything more than a two-year degree from a tech school, yet one time when we got the department newsletter, there was an item about an article he had published in a trade journal, and they called him out as Doctor So-and-so.

  • avatar
    crash sled

    Hey, who are the congresscritters to start ranking about education? They let an automotive tech guy testify in front of the whole world yesterday, about issues that affect us all, and they didn’t even bat an eye.

    And yes, he was an auto tech guy, no matter how many degrees he’s got under his belt. The difference between his qualifications and those of an automotive engineer with significant automotive engineering systems design and design verification experience are gargantuan.

    Another facet of this farce, and this Congress’ lack of seriousness here.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Regardless of education, do any (either) of them have industry experience with designing or debugging automotive circuitry and software?

  • avatar
    Duffer 1948

    Funny, when you hear about congressional oversight, they want you to feel all protested, because they’re looking out for our best interests. I’ve always felt the proper term should have been congressional overlook! They OVERLOOK all of the things they should be doing, while they butt into lots of issues they shouldn’t be involved with in the first place! It’s why they rarely get much accomplished in Washington, D.C. I’m just saying…

  • avatar
    jkross22

    More good stuff from LaHood. And still no accountability. He says he is taking responsibility, but what does that even mean? To most of us unwashed masses, it means that it’s your oversight and it’s your fault and you should be fired.

    The ambiguity of statements like “I’m taking responsibility” are full hot bs and nothing more.

  • avatar
    cardeveloper

    Electrical Engineers are not the same as Electronics Engineers. NHTSA is unlikely to have anybody on staff qualified to handle the technology analysis being presented here. Apparently Toyota didn’t either.

  • avatar
    50merc

    They have people with law degrees; why would they need anyone else?

    Seriously, for highly technical work government agencies often rely on consultants. Maybe NHTSA farms out that stuff to universities or independent engineering firms.

    As for Washington (where I lived for a time), I always liked JFK’s quip that D.C. combined northern charm and southern efficiency.

  • avatar
    6250Claimer

    From 1 employee earning more than $170k to 1,690 in 18 months? Anybody who reads that and doesn’t understand that the federal government is COMPLETELY out of control is out of their mind. These guys are spending us into total financial collapse at breakneck speed.

  • avatar
    jackc10

    It is true that the Federal Government rewards higher education. Pay grades, bonuses and other rewards come to those with degrees, from St. Leo to Stanford. The problem is that many of the persons employed by the US Government holding higher degrees and benefitting from the taxpayers largesse tend to have degrees from institutions barely known outside the county or URL the institution is located.

    It is also true that the Feds often use consultants to do work that needs credentials not actually found on the US Government payroll. The problem is that the consultants must have other credentials that have high political correctness and diversity scores, but might not break the ice in the real world. Then, their product is reviewed and the subject of multiple meetings. Judging is by the personnel described above.

    I do know that getting something published in a technical journal can be purchased and not all journals are of the same quality.

    This is not a “god help us” situation. It is the nature of the beast.

    I have worked with some Fed cubicle dwellers that really were close top notch and were there for the security, pension and higher education financial assistance. I will leave it someone else to figure out how common the good producers may be.

    To make this a car post and the reason for the post, I have Zero confidence in a NHSTA review of Toyota innards.


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