U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony FoxxEnlarge Photo
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx made an appearance at the National Press Club yesterday. According to Detroit News, he told the assembled crowd that no one at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been fired or even disciplined for failing to spot trouble signs at General Motors prior to the automaker's massive, headline-grabbing ignition switch recall.
The question is: should anyone be? To answer that, let's first consider the way that things went down at GM.
So, given how well GM staff hid the issue from their bosses, is it unreasonable to think that they might've hidden it equally well from NHTSA investigators, who received numerous consumer complaints about the automaker's dodgy ignition switches?
That, as people used to say, is the $64,000 question. Consider these facts:
Foxx insists that there are significant firewalls in place at NHTSA to protect agency workers from being influenced by automakers. If we assume that's true, we have to conclude that NHTSA staff were simply unable to spot the defect trend in GM vehicles -- possibly because they were pressed for time, or because they didn't have the tools (mental, mechanical, or otherwise) to help carry out the task. Or both.
The good news is that, after the Toyota/Lexus recall debacle of 2010, the agency was able to purchase new software to help connect important dots and identify defects early on. The bad news is that the agency probably isn't going to receive a substantial budget increase in the near future, so its relatively small team of 51 investigators aren't going to get a boost in bandwidth anytime soon.
Foxx said that NHTSA has reviewed its records and found no fault in the way it handled consumer complaints about GM vehicles in 2007 and 2010. However, he also noted that he's asked for a review of those findings. We'll let you know what they discover, if anything.