Letter to Chairmen Rockefeller and Pryor Regarding Whether Former NHTSA Employees Exerted Undue Influence on Safety Defect Investigations
At the request of Chairman Rockefeller of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and Chairman Pryor of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance, we conducted a review of former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) officials employed or under contract with automakers. Our aim was to determine whether these individuals are in a position to exert undue influence on NHTSA’s safety defect investigations. In our review, we identified and reviewed cases for current Office of Defect Investigations (ODI) employees who joined NHTSA from the auto industry as well as for former NHTSA employees who now work for automakers and found no evidence of internal or external undue pressure or influence on ODI staff decisions. We also found no statistical differences in the way these cases were disposed by either the automakers or NHTSA. In addition, we found that NHTSA complied with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics rules and reviewed financial disclosures appropriately and that former NHTSA employees received required ethics training as well as post-employment training. We also determined that NHTSA’s ethics policies and procedures are similar to those of other Operating Administrations within the Department of Transportation. Based on our findings, we are not making any recommendations regarding NHTSA’s ethics policies, procedures, and practices at this time. Per the Chairmen’s request, we are currently reviewing NHTSA’s processes for investigating industry-wide complaints of sudden unintended acceleration and brake failure and will report on our results later this year.