Tuesday, June 23, 2015 | Washington, D.C.
Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
As Prepared for Delivery
Chairman Thune, Ranking Member Nelson, and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide an update on NHTSA’s efforts to address vehicle safety defects, including defective Takata air bags.
The recall of defective Takata air bags may represent the largest national consumer safety recall in history. It is certainly one of the most complicated. All of NHTSA’s actions are targeted at achieving one goal, the only acceptable goal: a safe air bag in every American vehicle. On May 19, Secretary Foxx and NHTSA took a significant step toward this goal and announced that Takata, at the agency’s insistence, had filed four Defect Information Reports launching national recalls of an estimated 33.8 million defective air bag inflators.
The 11 affected auto manufacturers have now made available individual Vehicle Identification Numbers so that vehicle owners can go to safercar.gov and use NHTSA’s VIN look-up tool to determine if their vehicle is under recall. This is a good practice for all vehicle owners to engage in regularly.
Affected consumers should contact their dealers to arrange a replacement air bag as soon as possible. Consumers may also request a free loaner or rental vehicle from the dealer while they wait for a replacement air bag.
After reviewing automaker filings, our current estimate is that there are about 34 million defective air bags in 32 million affected vehicles. NHTSA has issued a Consent Order to Takata that, among other things, gives NHTSA the ability to ensure the adequacy of the remedy. For the first time, NHTSA is using authority provided by the TREAD Act and other authorities for a coordinated remedy program to prioritize and organize recall and remedy efforts. Late last week, NHTSA sent information requests to the affected automakers, Takata, and other potential suppliers of replacement parts seeking information as part of our coordinated remedy program. In addition, we have had initial discussions with the affected companies on a protective order that would allow these companies to share confidential business information with NHTSA and one another so that confidentiality concerns to not interfere with our safety efforts.
In a separate action, NHTSA is in the process of determining whether Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is in violation of the Safety Act’s requirements to remedy safety defects adequately and within a reasonable time. NHTSA has scheduled a July 2 hearing to examine 22 recalls that affect more than 11 million vehicles.
Based on information gathered, including from the public and Fiat Chrysler, NHTSA will make a determination as to whether Fiat Chrysler has met its obligations under the Safety Act, and take any appropriate actions.
At NHTSA, we are determined to use every tool available to protect the traveling public. And one critical tool is self-evaluation. At the urging of Secretary Foxx with the full support of NHTSA’s staff and leadership, and before I arrived, NHTSA was involved in tough self examination after one of the most challenging years in the agency’s history. NHTSA’s current approach to Takata, Fiat Chrysler and the scores of other defect-related issues we deal with every day has been informed by the lessons learned in that process.
On June 5, NHTSA released two reports that are essential in our efforts to improve our effectiveness.
The first report, “NHTSA’s Path Forward,” provides the results of a year-long due diligence review of our defect investigation process. Our review found weaknesses in processes for identifying and addressing defects. We are addressing those weaknesses with improvements already under way and within existing resources.
The second report is a workforce assessment that details how the President’s FY16 budget request reflects NHTSA mission needs. In addition, the report examines NHTSA’s workforce given the 265 million vehicles we monitor compared to the safety investigation workforces in other modes of transportation. It provides one possible path toward matching NHTSA’s workforce to those challenges.
At Secretary Foxx’s request, the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General performed an audit of NHTSA’s investigation of the GM ignition switch defect. NHTSA thanks Inspector General Scovel and his staff for their diligence. Their report is a helpful contribution to our efforts, and we have concurred with all 17 of the report’s recommendations. In fact, many of the Inspector General’s findings reinforce our own. To give you a sense of NHTSA’s commitment to improving efforts to identify and address safety defects: To date, we have implemented or initiated 43 separate changes to improve our performance. That includes efforts to address 10 of the 17 recommendations in from the Inspector General’s audit that were under way before the audit’s release.
Two factors outside the scope of the Inspector General’s audit are essential to NHTSA achieving its mission. The first is GM’s concealment of critical safety information from NHTSA. If I could sum up our process improvements in a single phrase, it would be: question assumptions. Question the information NHTSA gets from industry, and question our own assumptions.
The second factor, also outside the scope of the Inspector General’s audit, is available resources. The same 51 people managing the Takata recall include 8 that analyze 80,000 consumer complaints. Eight others oversee more than 1,200 recall campaigns now underway, and 16 others continue to investigate scores of potential defects. The agency must accomplish this task with a defects investigation budget that, when adjusted for inflation, is 23 percent lower than 10 years ago.
Your support is critical to protect the safety of Americans traveling on our country’s roadways. The President’s FY16 budget request would provide the people and technology needed to keep Americans safe. Secretary Foxx has proposed the GROW AMERICA Act, which would provide stable, increased funding and important safety authorities to help NHTSA in our mission.
It is clear that gaps in available personnel and authority represent known safety risks. The members of this Committee and your colleagues in Congress can help NHTSA address those risks and keep the traveling public safe.
Thank you for this opportunity to testify and I look forward to your questions.