New NHTSA Chief Wants To Create Team Focused On Spotting Defects

Just a month into his new gig as the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Mark Rosekind unveiled his vision for the future of the agency, including increasing staff and creating two new divisions to help step up efforts to identify defects and alert motorists about issues and recalls.

The Detroit News reports that Rosekind’s plan hinges on the President’s proposed budget, which calls for tripling the NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation funding from the current $9.7 million to $31.3 million.

“We need people, technology and authority,” Rosekind said. “It’s not just about the money — it’s about what it gets us.”

As part of Rosekind’s plan the agency would use the funds to create a “trend analysis division” that would work to connect the dots regarding potential safety issues.

Additionally, the agency would create a new specialized crash investigation group.

“This one is specific for defects,” Rosekind said of the difference between the new group and one that currently is part of the agency’s statistics and analysis division. “We’d have a special group that gets to go and say does that fit a defect investigation that we’re doing.”

The group would be similar to a National Transportation Safety Board team that investigates some high-profile transportation accidents. Rosekind described it as a “go-team for defects,” meaning that when hot issues arrise the specialized team would collect its own data.

“There’s two new divisions — with these kinds of people — that’s what’s going to make a difference,” he tells the Detroit News.

Under Rosekind’s proposal the current NHTSA defect team would increase staff from 28 to 56.5 full-time equivalent positions.

The agency would also use funds to hire a mathematician, two statisticians, 16 engineers and four new investigators, bringing the total team to more than 100 employees.

Staff increases and new divisions within NHTSA could help the agency avoid the criticisms it has recently faced regarding the record number of recalls that took place in 2014.

Legislators and consumer advocates voiced displeasure with the agency last year following its failure to detect an ignition switch issue in millions of General Motors vehicles that has since been linked to more than 50 deaths and hundreds of injuries.

A report released by a House committee in September found NHTSA “lacked the focus and rigor expected of a federal safety regulator. The agency’s repeated failure to identify, let alone explore, the potential defect theory related to the ignition switch — even after it was spelled out in a report the agency commissioned — is inexcusable.”

The Detroit News reports that not everyone is on board with Rosekind’s proposed changes to the agency.

South Dakota Senator John Thune says that while NHTSA needs reform, he isn’t sure throwing money at the agency is necessary.

“We think there are ways, too, that you could reform and accomplish some things (without higher funding),” Thune tells the Detroit News.

NHTSA wants two new divisions to spot defects [The Detroit News]