By on October 6, 2017

broken down jalopy

The United States is still waiting on a glut of senior appointments within agencies that affect the automotive industry. While the Environmental Protection Agency eventually got Scott Pruitt, many high-ranking positions remain vacant at the EPA and other U.S. regulatory groups. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is still missing an administrator, chief counselor, director for government affairs, chief financial officer, and one enforcement chief.

With so many holes in its staff, former NHTSA officials and consumer advocacy groups are worried the agency has been rendered ineffective — essentially stalled on important decisions and issues that need the right kind of signature. Eight months is a long time to wait for an appointment and the NHTSA was only just given a deputy administrator, after former executive director Jack Danielson’s promotion. 

According to Reuters, the White House is blaming Democrats for belaboring out the confirmation of its nominees, complaining that the vetting process has been more complicated than usual because so many prospective Trump appointees come from the business world, rather than from inside the government.

There is also a sense that the current administration might be intentionally dragging its feet on some staff picks in order to keep federal agencies trim. Some have even posited that it’s a strategy to avoid rulings that might be unpopular with certain industries — including the automotive realm. However, there are some businesses that are annoyed so many important seats are still unoccupied.

In September, the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association sent a letter to the White House urging the president to nominate someone, anyone, to be administrator of the NHTSA, so the agency can move forward with a road safety law passed by Congress in 2015.

“NHTSA’s role in regulating the motor vehicle, tire and motor vehicle equipment industries requires leadership to ensure implementation of smart, efficient regulations required by Congress to ensure a competitive marketplace,” USTMA President and CEO Anne Forristall Luke wrote. “We stand ready to work with your Administration and eventual nominee to advance motorist safety while promoting a competitive and successful U.S. tire manufacturing industry.”

The NHTSA has yet to outline specific regulations that would set minimum tire standards for fuel efficiency and traction in wet conditions. It’s also supposed to create create a database allowing consumers to check for tire recalls, according to the Congressional ruling.

Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator under President Jimmy Carter and a current consumer advocate, has been extremely critical of the current delay on side impact crash standards and has repeatedly expressed concerns over this year’s general regulatory inactivity. “This agency is in a stall,” she said. “They are not going to do very much without political leadership.”

That lack of leadership is coming from across the board, however. While the White House has been exceptionally lackadaisical in its nominations, the U.S. Senate hasn’t bothered to approve that many of them. Data from the non-partisan Partnership for Public Service indicates the Trump administration had nominated 387 political appointees for civilian positions in the executive branch, while the Senate had only confirmed 160. Both of those are well below average for the first eight months of the last four presidencies.

That’s a lot of finger pointing in need of doing. Trump doesn’t seem to want to fill of those seats and the Senate doesn’t appear particularly interested in over half the appointees that have been selected. Although, whether that is due to partisan politics or because the candidates are simply unacceptable choices is unclear.

NHTSA issued a statement to Reuters on Friday saying safety remains its top priority. The agency is “committed to meeting all obligations as required” by the aforementioned 2015 law. Presently, the agency is conducting an extensive review of all recent regulatory degrees as part of the administration’s effort to curtail governmental overreach.

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26 Comments on “The NHTSA: Broken Down, Short on Staff, Slow on Change...”

  • avatar

    What NHTSA desperately needs is an Administrator who is a trained vehicle engineer or an experienced traffic safety researcher – people who could properly prioritize programs on cost/benefit grounds. Jim Walker, National Motorists Association

  • avatar
    Car Guy

    The “holes” are in government appointees. Bureaucrats who really don’t do a whole lot. The career staff do the real work and still run the place.

    Taking months, or even years, to get an administrator is nothing new. It took Obama over a year to nominate a NHTSA administrator.

    • 0 avatar

      You are correct. It takes a while for any administration to get their people in.

      Further, there is no conspiracy. Trump said on April 26, 2017, that he intended to do as many people advised and how Reagan did it (e.g., Undersecretary Tom Tancredo was put in to fire a lot of people at the Dept of Ed in the 1980s).

      The only real surprise was that we learned just a short while ago that one of the GOP establishment guys deleted the resumes, so all the people who had applied in the transition – yeah, sorry, Trumpists need not apply.

  • avatar

    The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it. -P.J. O’Rourke

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I think almost every government agency with a political appointment is in this boat.

  • avatar

    “While the White House has been exceptionally lackadaisical in its nominations,”

    Matt…nowhere in your story do you actually show any evidence Trump is doing anything to show he is lackadaisical.

    You CAN show lots of evidence, and you refer to this, that the opposition is actually stalling.

    “There is also a sense that the current administration might be intentionally dragging its feet”…

    There’s a sense? This is not sufficient. Who has this sense?

    And there is also this…maybe, just maybe, many of these smaller agencies would be a better thing and a government frozen a gift.

    Finally…IF there were any nominations offered, the dems would stall again IF the pick was not of their liking. And besides, I can think of so many more nominees stalled now of more importance to us but Trump can’t get through.

    • 0 avatar

      “Matt…nowhere in your story do you actually show any evidence Trump is doing anything to show he is lackadaisical.”

      Except that he does EXACTLY that:

      “Data from the non-partisan Partnership for Public Service indicates the Trump administration had nominated 387 political appointees for civilian positions in the executive branch, while the Senate had only confirmed 160. Both of those are well below average for the first eight months of the last four presidencies.”

      • 0 avatar
        pecos bill

        TTAC: just another hate-filled political blog.

      • 0 avatar

        Vo, friend, that is not proof of him being lazy.
        Come on…this was the exact reason for my irritation.

        Please…he is facing troubles no other president ever face support wise, other than Johnson after Lincoln.
        And for a lot of the same reason.

        His party is chock full of today’s Carpetbaggers and In Name Only conservatives.

        His own party of RINOs fights him on every move.
        UNLIKE democrats that vote in complete unison,the repubs are The Party of Stupid.
        Trump has to face the combined oppositio9n of both parties…even his own party won’t produce a bill they can agree on.

        Sorry,but Trump has produced far more Executive Orders just because of his lack of party unity. They hate him in DC. He ain’t one of them and he won’tplay ball.

        Yes, a lot of this is because he is not a trained For Life politician,but this is exactly why they voted for him. It is nota reason his lovers resent him.

  • avatar

    I, for one, have no problem with Trump slow walking all the political appointees to slow the rule making machine to a crawl. Who says the government HAS to continuously make up new rule restricting our activities??

    • 0 avatar

      All of these departments are not restricting “our” activities. They’re designed to keep businesses from designing exploding cars, dumping toxins into our drinking water, and creating a Shanghai-level of smog in every major city. But that’s apparently part of making America great again, because *man* do Republicans roll over and vote for big businesses to decide what’s best for them.

  • avatar

    If the appointees are going to be like those the EPA, Education, and FCC got, you would be better off leaving the positions empty.

    • 0 avatar

      If the appointee is anything like those “experts” in their fields, we’ll find out that he’s anti-seatbelt. Because, ya know, freedom or something.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @jcwconsult–Agree we do need a trained engineer. Working for the Gov. for almost 29 years I have personal experience of how the Gov. works. Many administrators have little or no experience in the departments they work for.

  • avatar

    This is why American governance as it’s currently practiced is like football with the following ground rules- “To win a point, the Blue Team must carry out a play, compete a pass and cross the goal line with no penalties. For the Red Team to win, they just have to throw the ball into the stands and say “Nyah, nyah, nyah!”

  • avatar

    “With so many holes in its staff, former NHTSA officials and consumer advocacy groups are worried the agency has been rendered ineffective”

    Under Trump, ultra bright blinding headlights and zero visibility vehicles happened. No wait, omg that happened *before* Jan 20, 2017! Like many agencies of government, NHSTA was already rendered ineffective and how ineffective it has been for years is the more interesting story. Kudos on using facts though on your veiled attack on the President (who has done many stupid things but this non-story isn’t one of them).

    “Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator under President Jimmy Carter and a current consumer advocate, has been extremely critical of the current delay on side impact crash standards and has repeatedly expressed concerns over this year’s general regulatory inactivity. “This agency is in a stall,” she said. “They are not going to do very much without ***political leadership***.””

    Why should a gov’t safety agency have political leadership? Does NHSTA needs a Commissar, Miss Claybrook?

    • 0 avatar

      They probably do to implement much new.

      Most newly proposed safety regs don’t make sense on a dollar basis. There’s an actual Value of Statistical Life that’s established, currently at 9.6 million dollars per fatality. See here:

      There were 35 thousand road deaths in 2015, and a SAAR of ~17 million. If a regulatory change totally stops, say, 350 road deaths (1%), the math would say *a customer* can spend almost $200 additional on a vehicle that conforms to the revised regulation. (this includes purchase price, fuel, insurance, etc.) There are more nuances in there than that, but that’s the 10,000 foot view on it.

      E.G. 100% mandatory reverse cameras didn’t really meet this standard when implemented, implementation was somewhat political. (if it were reviewed today, however, the math would probably work)

      Now, there are also a series of knockdowns for injuries, based on the MAIS scale, which you can see on page 10 of the PDF and see explained on Wikipedia (“Abbreviated Injury Scale”). This allows you to say that “this fix will stop 20 deaths, 50 critical injuries, 250 severe injuries…” etc. and get a decent set of numbers. (with a lot of caveats)

      Anywho, long story short, lots of math points to a lot of proposed fixes costing a lot more than the “value” saved by the fix. This is why NHTSA tends to implement things under regulation that are already on a substantial portion of the fleet; the marginal cost is much lower. (to return to our reverse camera example, those were already on a bunch of new cars when the reg was implemented, though I forget the number) This can lead to them looking like a trailing indicator of safety sometimes.

      For a safety advocate looking to advance safety, the NHTSA process can look slow.

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks for the well written post. I am left to conclude despite precise calculations oh human life which I presume are prioritized by cost, new requirements only occur for equipment/technology which already exists and is already proliferating in the industry because none of their recommendations produce proper ROI. Therefore in 2016, the US Gov’t spent $908,000,000 dollars on an agency who mandates safety features which already do exist and are already popular as options. We wonder why the country is in trouble.

        • 0 avatar

          Well, in fairness, they’re spending ~1.2 billion (fy17 estimate) out of a 4.1 trillion dollar budget on NHTSA, or about a third of a percent. Roughly half of that is highway grants, a sixth autonomous vehicle RnD, and a sixth highway/ roadway research. That leaves about a sixth of the budget, ~250 million, on all vehicle safety activities. Pretty cheap all things considered (0.06% of the fed budget), especially since a new car is a 1-6 billion dollar proposition, depending on the complexity. (And the average American spends over an hour and a half per day in a car!)

          I also don’t mind that they mostly mandate things that are shipping on cars and have a known track record of working. At least we know, even if the costs aren’t quite right!

          The whole ROI thing though? Yeah.

  • avatar

    Time to change the law. With the exception of the Dept of Defense, State Department, and Treasury Departments, any department budget will automatically be cut to zero and all civil servants within the department permanently laid off without pay if there is no administrative head appointed and approved within 6 months of the inauguration date. If partisan politics get in the way – then the small government side wins. If the president wishes to shrink government by closing down useless departments such as Dept of Energy, Education, EPA, Agriculture, etc. then this method offers a very speedy way to achieve the size of government intended by the founding fathers.

  • avatar

    Since nobody else seems to want it, I will volunteer for the position of NHTSA administrator. My first order of business is to outlaw the wooden spoke wheel. Okay, good job. Now I will put a stop to the development of self-driving cars. That is just asking for a war against the machines. For another step in that direction, I now outlaw the automatic transmission. If you can’t pay enough attention to shift gears, then you shouldn’t be operating a two-ton rolling death machine. On that note, all pedestrians must wear DOT approved helmets while operating within 1000 feet of any public motorway. Now what this country really needs is a monorail. In order to meet new safety standards, all interstate highways will be converted to a monorail by the year 2020. Make that a Tesla vacuum tube hyperloop monorail. I now submit my formal resignation and relinquish control of the NHTSA to Mr. Musk. Thank you.

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