Lawmakers have yet again ripped into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over the General Motors ignition switch recall. While GM has been working hard to change the way they handle recalls, it seems to be status quo at the regulatory agency. This left a Senate subcommittee bewildered and outraged.
A Senate committee held a hearing yesterday and took NHTSA to task for not following up on a pledge to reform the agency. These senators demanded action and answers from the now NHTSA’s deputy administrator David Friedman who appeared before them.
Instead of action, Friedman was largely forced to defend NHTSA and their lack of changes following a report from the House Energy and Commerce committee. This report found that the NHTSA played a large role in GM’s ignition switch recall issue and with the agency’s incompetence a big factor.
The damning report took NHTSA to task for its bureaucratic dysfunction, lack of change and even suggested the agency didn’t know how an air bag system works. The lack of change is what got most senators fired up.
“There is no evidence, at least publicly, that anything has changed at the agency,” the report said. “No one has been held accountable and no substantial changes have been made. NHTSA and its employees admit they made mistakes but the lack of urgency in identifying and resolving those shortcomings raises questions about the agency’s commitment to learning from this recall.
NHTSA likewise had critical information in its possession which pointed to this defect. Whether the information was not understood, overlooked or lost in organizational stove-pipes, the agency’s failure to follow-up on this information contributed to NHTSA’s inability to identify this defect.”
Friedman pushed back against the report after the hearing.
“I don’t think we had ample information to determine that there was a defect,” Friedman said according to an Automotive News story, noting that in future defect investigations, NHTSA will “more aggressively” pursue possible defect causes that seem remote at the time.
He also said in the review of the agency’s handling of GM’s recall, the link between the ignition switches and airbag deployment wasn’t as evident.
“It is tragic that the evidence was staring NHTSA in the face and the agency didn’t identify the warnings,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Michigan) said. “NHTSA exists not just to process what the company finds, but to dig deeper. They failed.”
Stay tuned for more finger pointing.