The government agency responsible for highway safety and investigations was requesting nearly $60 million more to its budget as it faced a growing number of auto industry-related recalls, including an expansion of the Takata airbag recall that swelled to 34 million cars Tuesday. Despite warnings from National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) head Mark Rosekind, a Republican-controlled Congress remained reluctant to sign the check.
“We’re pretty concerned. You can’t keep talking about wanting to make things safer and more efficient. We’re going to do everything we can internally... but without certain resources we’re not going to get the level [of performance] that everyone expects,” Rosekind told the Detroit News earlier this month after a House subcommittee approved a transportation budget that didn’t include the increase. The budget has yet to be finalized.
NHTSA is asking for $908 million in fiscal year 2016, or $58 million more than the $850 million the agency received last year. Some of the funds would be earmarked to adding 59 more full-time employees to bring the staff to 669 workers. All of the additional employees would be assigned to the defects office, where there are only 28 full-time workers, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told a news conference in February, according to the New York Times. The agency is responsible for responding to consumer complaints, crash testing vehicles, and giving grants to state and local governments to conduct safety research.
Some Republicans doubt that more money means there will be less recalls. There were 60 million auto-related recalls in 2014, twice the record set 10 years earlier, according to the Times.
“[O]ur oversight of NHTSA over the last year has revealed that problems facing the agency run deeper than staffing or funding,” a spokeswoman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee told the paper. Congress has held hearings featuring agency officials over General Motors’ ignition switch recalls, and an Energy and Commerce report from September 2014 found the NHTSA had “a lack of accountability, poor information sharing, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the vehicles, all of which contributed to the failure to identify and fix this deadly defect.”
But Rosekind said Tuesday that the agency was plagued by inadequate staffing and that they had only nine employees to go through some 80,000 complaints, nearly double the 45,000 complaints received in 2013.
U.S President Barack Obama is backing NHTSA’s budget request, which includes $31 million more for the agency’s Office of Defects Investigation over fiscal year 2015 levels.