RESTON, Va.—The Firestone recall and resulting tumult on Capitol Hill "will fundamentally change" the government relations efforts of the Tire Association of North America.
That said, Ross Kogel, the group's executive vice president, believes it will be "critical for TANA to have an enhanced presence in Washington from now on."
This has been the association's year for beefing up its government affairs activities—beginning with the May hiring of Rebecca MacDicken, TANA's first government affairs director in 18 months.
But congressional action on the just-passed TREAD Act—plus the threat of the more stringent NHTSA reform bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.—galvanized tire dealer activity on the Hill like no other topic since the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, TANA's predecessor organization, won the battle for voluntary tire registration in 1982.
The bills to strengthen the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's powers related to safety defects and recalls required not only the full-time efforts of Mr. Kogel and Ms. MacDicken, but also the hiring of the Washington lobbying firm of Ryan, Philips, Utrecht and MacKinnon and the work of TANA General Counsel Jeffrey S. Tenenbaum.
The suddenness of the Firestone recall and the resulting legislation was breathtaking in itself, Mr. Kogel noted. "Two months ago, our main issues were repeal of the estate tax, ergonomics and the Skilled Workforce Enhancement Act," he said.
The last of these—commonly known as SWEA—grants small businesses a tax credit of up to $15,000 per employee for providing long-term training in highly skilled trades. Ms. MacDicken is particularly conversant with this legislation, having written a version of it in her previous job as a staff member on the House Small Business Committee.
Rep. James M. Talent, R-Mo., introduced the latest SWEA bill in May 1999. The legislation gained 86 co-sponsors, but no hearings were scheduled during the 106th Congress.
TANA's efforts on behalf of estate tax repeal—a leading goal of virtually every small business association—is a matter of public record, as is its opposition to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's pending ergonomics standard.
OSHA describes the standard as "flexible," but business groups prefer the term "vague," followed by the adjective "expensive" (with the adverb "prohibitively" usually attached).
Nevertheless, it was the September hearings and legislation arising from the Aug. 9 recall of 6.5 million Firestone ATX and Wilderness AT tires that have led TANA to its most intensive lobbying efforts in two decades.
"TANA and its team of legislative and legal consultants worked feverishly over the last several weeks to ensure that tire dealers were not unjustly targeted by a bill that was being rushed to enactment," the association stated in an Oct. 17 press release.
"TANA worked hand-in-hand on a daily basis with legislators and their staffs.|.|.|to narrow the scope of the bill and prevent dangerous expansions of it."
Such an intensive effort seemed unlikely—to say the least—in late 1998, when then-TANA Executive Vice President David E. Poisson let go longtime Government Affairs Director Donald T. Wilson as a cost-cutting measure.
TANA's lobbying efforts by no means ceased during this period, Mr. Kogel said. But after Mr. Poisson left the association on March 1, 2000, to take another job, the TANA Board of Directors and consumer surveys strongly indicated that the membership wanted government relations re-emphasized.
As a further way to underscore government affairs, TANA is organizing a new political action committee, TANAPAC. Its formation is still preliminary, and the association will release further details as they become available, according to Jeff McKinnon of Ryan, Philips, Utrecht and MacKinnon.