On Wednesday morning, Democratic senator from California Barbara Boxer introduced a bill that would close the “revolving door” between the NHTSA and automakers. A part of the continuing fallout of the Toyota recall fiasco, this bill addresses an issue raised repeatedly in congressional hearings. Should the bill pass, high-level NHTSA employees would be required to take a three-year break before working for automakers.
Former NHTSA employees negotiated for Toyota
During the Senate hearings about the Toyota recall, the role of former NHTSA employees came to light. Former employees were recruited directly from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to work with Toyota on negotiating with the NHTSA. Because these employees had inside knowledge, they were able to negotiate smaller-scale recalls — or talk their way out of any recall at all. This is a fairly standard practice within vehicle manufacturers, and presents serious neutrality issues.
Required three-year cooling-off period
The bill introduced by Barbara Boxer would require a three-year “cooling off” period for NHTSA employees before they could work for automakers. This rule would apply to only “high level” NHTSA jobs and “direct communication” jobs with automakers. If the job a NHTSA employee has does not involve recalls or automaker negotiations, the rule would not apply to them. Additionally, if the former employee is offered a position with the auto maker that does not require them to work communicate with the NHTSA, they can take the job.
Department of Transportation due to investigate NHTSA
In February of this year, the Department of Transportation announced that it would investigate the NHTSA. Concerns have been raised that the NHTSA is simply under-equipped and understaffed. There are about 125 engineers on staff for the NHTSA, which is responsible for the safety and security of the approximately 254 million passenger vehicles on U.S. roadways. There are worries that the NHTSA simply cannot effectively regulate its entire purview with so few engineers.