administration eyes leadership change at auto safety agency -source
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[October 28, 2014]
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The acting
chief of the NHTSA, the top U.S. automotive safety regulator, is
unlikely to be nominated for the job and an active search is under way
to fill the position, a source familiar with the matter said on Monday.
After a series of perceived failures at the National Highway
Transportation Safety Administration, David Friedman, who has served
this year as acting head of the agency, is not expected to be tapped
by the Obama administration for the job, the source said.
The agency has been sharply criticized for responding slowly to
repeated red flags of a deadly ignition flaw in millions of General
Motors vehicles and its handling of recalls of millions of cars with
potentially defective air bags made by Japan's Takata Corp.
It is not clear whom Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and
officials at the White House have in mind to run the agency. Foxx
told the Detroit News a week ago a nominee would be announced soon.
He did not say if the administration planned to nominate Friedman,
the newspaper reported.
Representative Fred Upton, the chairman of the House Energy and
Commerce Committee, on Monday said NHTSA needs to hold itself to a
higher standard and called on new leadership for the agency.
"This can begin with the naming of a new NHTSA chief – a critically
important safety post that remains vacant to this day," Upton said
in a statement.
Upton's prepared statement came hours after NHTSA briefed committee
staff on its handling of a problem involving Takata air bags. A
similar briefing was held for the Senate subcommittee with oversight
of product safety.
The House panel’s staff this week is also expected to begin a series
of meetings with automobile manufacturers affected by the air bag
The Transportation Department has also launched an internal review
of NHTSA and its response to safety lapses.
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White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Monday told reporters that
NHTSA "has been aggressive in responding to the situation related to
defective air bags" but said such a review is needed to strengthen
the agency's actions in the future.
Friedman joined NHTSA in May 2013, after working for 12 years at the
Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group. He became
the acting head of NHTSA when his predecessor, David Strickland,
resigned last December.
Friedman has spent much of this year defending the agency's actions
going back a decade. Republican and Democratic lawmakers have
skewered NHTSA for being too cozy with automakers and for responding
slowly to deadly vehicle defects.
A House report released in September found NHTSA had the power and
information to act on GM's faulty switches but was hampered by a
"lack of knowledge and awareness regarding the evolution of vehicle
safety systems they regulate."
(Reporting By Steve Holland and Richard Cowan; Editing by Steve
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