NHTSA's Revolving Door: Most Automakers Employ Former Staff Members

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
nhtsa s revolving door most automakers employ former staff members

One of the main topics at the Toyota hearings held in recent weeks is the automaker’s practice of hiring former NHTSA officials to its lobbying team. At the time, we were inclined to believe that Toyota was hardly the only firm engaging in this practice, and thanks to some Washington Post reporting, our suspicions have been confirmed. Early controversy centered around Christopher Santucci and Chris Tinto, two NHTSA Office of Defect Investigation officials who now work for Toyota. In addition to these two, the WaPo has identified former NHTSA lawyers Kenneth Weinstein and Erika Jones as former NHTSA officials who also now work for Toyota. And then there are the former regulators who work for other automakers: Jacqueline Glassman, a former NHTSA chief counsel and then deputy administrator now works for a law firm that represents Nissan and Mercedes. And that’s not all:

Former agency compliance engineer Amanda Prescott now works for Ford. Former agency director of the Office of Crashworthiness Research, Ralph J. Hitchcock, now works for American Honda Motor Co. And past agency administrator Diane Steed is a partner at Strat@Comm, a Washington public relations and lobbying firm that represents General Motors Corp.

And once again, Toyota wriggles out of some of the most damning accusations against it, not by confirming that it actually holds itself to especially high quality and safety standards, but by proving that it’s just like every other automaker. As we noted some weeks ago, this loss of exceptionalism is the ultimate price that Toyota will pay for this scandal (not counting lawyer fees).

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  • JSF22 JSF22 on Mar 09, 2010

    Ed, I understand your point (and you are correct) that Toyota engages in no more nor no fewer efforts to sway regulators than any other car company -- indeed, any other company in any other highly regulated industry. What I can't quite agree with is the implication that this is "bad." Most intelligent employers seek to hire people with directly relevant prior experience. This is especially important in an area as complex as vehicle regulations, which require years to understand. Car companies do seek to hire the best people from NHTSA. NHTSA seeks (with less success) to hire the best people from car companies. Absent proof of ethical violations, I will never concede that it is wrong to hire people who know their stuff. Yes, Erika Jones and Ken Weinstein (respectively former General Counsel and Assistant Counsel at NHTSA) went to a big Washington law firm, where their principal clients are car companies (not just Toyota). Jackie Glassman, another former GC of NHTSA who also was interim Administrator for a time, went to NHTSA from Chrysler and from NHTSA to another large DC law firm. So what? They know what they are doing. For every time they tell NHTSA a car company's position, they probably tell their clients what will and won't fly at NHTSA. Are you trying to say that we don't want well qualified, well informed people in all these positions? Or that I shouldn't be able to use my prior experience honestly in a subsequent job? That seems to be the undertone of the article and the other comments, and I completely disagree.

    • Porschespeed Porschespeed on Mar 09, 2010

      We need to hire an accountant to prove Enron is breaking the law. We do not need, nor want, to hire Jeff Skilling. Perhaps we should staff DEA soley from the the cartels, FBI from the pool of multi-state felons, NSA filled with jihadis... Sure, a smart government does retain the services of some of the regulated, just to keep a pulse on what the other side is doing. The system that has developed over the last 30 years no longer has the fox called in for a consult on how best to guard the henhouse. Rather he's second in command.

  • TomH TomH on Mar 09, 2010

    I'm trying to figure out how a Washington Post article that documents ex-NHTSA staffers who were hired by the car biz leads to the conclusion "And once again, Toyota wriggles out of some of the most damning accusations against it." Did I miss something? I recall no one from Toyota was either referenced or quoted in the article.

    • See 2 previous
    • TomH TomH on Mar 09, 2010

      Edward, Your point was not subtle, but it was a non sequitur. There was nothing in the WP article that showed Toyota attempting to wriggle out of anything nor was there any citation in yours to suggest it either. I agree that in the public's eye, Toyota WAS the "Gold Standard" and that "everybody does it" is not a very effective defense; My confusion stems from my inability to recall Toyota ever taking that position prior to, during, or subsequent to the congressional hearings as it relates to the SUA et al recalls.

  • Ozibuns Ozibuns on Mar 09, 2010

    Ed, the point was not made at all because of this phrase And once again, Toyota wriggles out of some of the most damning accusations against it, not by confirming that it actually holds itself to especially high quality and safety standards, but by proving that it’s just like every other automaker There is the merest hint of condemnation that I think clouds your intention. That's my perspective anyway. But thanks for responding, it's clear now.

  • Robert Schwartz Robert Schwartz on Mar 09, 2010

    Folks: This is the way of the world. I worked for many years in two businesses subject to highly detailed and complex governmental regulatory mechanisms, securities and insurance. Both industries are subject to state federal, and foreign regulations. There are statutes that govern each of these industries. There are regulatory agencies formed at all levels to implement the regulatory scheme. The agencies write rules as mandated by the laws and to further explain the agencies understanding of their mandate under the laws. Forms are promulgated by the agencies. Interpretive letters are requested by the industries and written by the agencies. Of course, there are law suits and enforcement actions that result in thousands of court opinions A basic book of federal securities laws, rules, and forms sat next to my desk for many years. It was about 2000 pages, printed on very fine paper in small type. The point is that there is a boatload of material to master in order to be able to effectively counsel persons subject to a regulatory regime. Assume that the regulated person, acting in complete good faith, wants to comply the law and please the regulators. He cannot do that by consulting his natural sense of justice. There are forms to fill out and file timely, there are records to maintain in required formats, and on and on. The regulated person must hire someone with the appropriate mastery of the law, rule, forms, and opinions to guide him. And where shall he find such a person. One good place is the regulatory agencies themselves. Let's face it, government jobs are not great. There may be little prospect for advancement. The offices tend to be shabby. The colleagues may be less than inspiring. For many professionals, the pay inside a government agency may be adequate, but not great, and their classmates may be making a lot more in the private sector. Once they have completed their regulatory apprenticeships, they leave and go to work for the regulated industry. Only the idiots in the main stream media think this is a huge problem.