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Is NHTSA nominee up to difficult task?

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WASHINGTON—As an expert on human fatigue, Mark Rosekind is well-suited to steer the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) toward the era of autonomous driving and connected-car technologies.

But in the near term, he will have to prove to members of Congress that he is up to the task of revitalizing an agency beset by lapses exposed in the General Motors Co. ignition switch and Takata airbag scandals.

The nominee will need to address “how to restore the public's trust in America's auto safety watchdog...the need to implement the cultural change that's needed at the agency” and how it can keep up with the fast-changing auto industry, said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who heads the Senate Commerce Committee's consumer-protection panel.

Mr. Rosekind, who was appointed in November to head NHTSA, faces a Senate confirmation process that began Dec. 3 and will put him face to face with several lawmakers who have been harshly critical of the agency and demanded reform. NHTSA has been without a Senate-confirmed administrator since January, when David Strickland stepped down and left his deputy, David Friedman, to serve as NHTSA's public face.

The senators who will pass judgment on Mr. Rosekind have proposed several bills that would boost NHTSA's funding and enforcement powers, and they are likely to demand a commensurate level of responsiveness and accountability on the part of the regulator.

A lack of agency resources has been a recurring theme of congressional hearings into the GM and Takata recalls. NHTSA allocates just $10 million a year to its roughly 50 staffers who investigate defects in automobiles, buses, commercial vehicles, heavy-duty trucks and child car seats. By comparison, GM alone hired 35 safety investigators this year to beef up its defect investigation department, on top of its existing staff, CEO Mary Barra told a U.S. House committee in June.

“NHTSA and Dr. Rosekind will face serious challenges and must do a better job discerning danger in cases like those involving GM ignition switches and Takata airbags, which imperiled drivers long after NHTSA had reason to act,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement.

Since 2010, Mr. Rosekind has been a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates major transportation accidents. He was a NASA official in the 1990s, where he led a program to evaluate and prevent the effects of pilot fatigue, and he founded a fatigue-management firm after leaving the agency.

At NHTSA, Mr. Rosekind must overcome his limited experience with the auto industry and with running a large organization.

Some of NHTSA's outspoken critics were pleased with Mr. Rose-kind's nomination.

For one, Joan Claybrook, NHTSA's administrator under President Jimmy Carter, called Mr. Rosekind “an excellent choice”

“He understands regulation and law enforcement, both of which are critical as the leader of NHTSA.”
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Previous | Published March 18, 2019

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