In the wake of GM’s ignition-switch, the Secretary of Transportation, Anthony R. Foxx, directed an investigation into NHTSA’s defect investigation policies and procedures. Specifically, Secretary Foxx requested that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) assess NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation’s (ODI) procedures for (1) collecting vehicle safety data, (2) analyzing the data and identifying potential safety issues, and (3) determining which of these issues warrant further investigation. On June 22, 2015, the Department of Transportation released the OIG’s report titled “Inadequate Data and Analysis Undermine NHTSA’s Efforts to Identify and Investigate Vehicle Safety Concerns.”
While tacitly acknowledging that ODI is understaffed to tackle the large volume of information that flows into the agency, the OIG report points to a number of breakdowns in ODI’s processes and policies, including the following:
The OIG’s report concluded that weaknesses in NHTSA’s training and supervision of pre-investigation staff and its processes for identifying potential safety concerns constrain NHTSA’s ability to adequately meet its safety mission.
The OIG recommended 17 steps the agency should take to improve these processes and procedures:
Greater transparency on what NHTSA views as a potential safety-related defect would be a welcome change for the public and the industry. But the Inspector General’s concerns related to data submitted by manufacturers to NHTSA should alert the industry to a need to review their policies.
Of particular concern to manufacturers are the recommendations to expand data verification to assess manufacturer’s compliance with regulatory submissions. Manufacturers would be wise to audit their collection of regulatory filings to ensure data is complete and consistently coded. Future enforcement actions and rulemakings related to EWR and other data submitted under 49 CFR Part 579 may be on the horizon.