The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is tasked with keeping drivers safe by making sure that automakers issue campaigns when something is wrong with a vehicle. Last year, the agency came under intense scrutiny, though, and Congress called it incompetent for the handling of the General Motors ignition switch recall. Following a one-year internal investigation, NHTSA has now set out to reorganize into a better organization and has laid its future out in two reports.

"NHTSA has identified improvements, some already in progress and some we plan to make, to better investigate, identify and remedy defects that threaten public safety," US Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (pictured above) said in the investigation announcement. Among these changes, the agency is working to watch automakers more closely and question the assumptions that are made during inquiries. To make sure these advancements actually happen, a three-person panel of outside experts called the Safety Systems Team is monitoring NHTSA for the next year.

The government agency also admits that there's a problem with its departments not communicating with each other. To help fix this, the Risk Control Innovations Program is being implemented to bring people together across NHTSA to take on emerging highway safety questions.

Beyond these internal changes, the agency still wants extra financial help, as well. According to The Detroit Free Press, NHTSA is asking for 380 more workers and a $90-million budget increase. That money could be useful, if it ever comes. A report last year found that the Office of Defects Investigation had a staff of just 51 people and $10 million in annual resources. The division already requested to triple that funding and hire at least 23 more employees.
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Transportation Sec. Foxx announces formation of new NHTSA safety teams

Friday, June 5, 2015

Expert panel to help implement improvements identified in 'Path Forward' report; internal groups to tackle safety risks

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx today released two internal reports from the Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that outline the changes NHTSA has adopted in the wake of the General Motors (GM) ignition switch recall and how the agency proposes to strengthen its defect investigation workforce

Secretary Foxx also announced the formation of a three-person Safety Systems Team (SST) of outside experts who will spend the next year advising NHTSA on implementation of the changes outlined in the report. At the same time, NHTSA launched a new, internal Risk Control Innovations Program, which will bring together NHTSA staff from across the agency to address emerging highway safety risks that cut across the agency's enforcement, vehicle safety and behavioral safety efforts.

"NHTSA has identified improvements, some already in progress and some we plan to make, to better investigate, identify and remedy defects that threaten public safety," said Secretary Anthony Foxx. "With the SST, we are enlisting three of the most experienced and knowledgeable safety professionals in the world to help us implement these changes. And with the Risk Control Innovations Program, we are breaking down stovepipes and reaching into offices from across NHTSA to address safety risks."

NHTSA's Safety Systems Team (SST) will guide and validate strategy, tactics, and actions to enhance the agency's effectiveness. The team will include:

Dr. Joseph Kolly, Ph.D., director of the Office of Research and Engineering at the National Transportation Safety Board, who is detailed to NHTSA for the remainder of 2015;

Dr. J. Victor Lebacqz, Ph.D., former associate administrator for aeronautics research at NASA;

Dr. James P. Bagian, M.D., director of the Center for Healthcare Engineering and Patient Safety at the University of Michigan, where he is a professor at the medical and engineering schools; he is also a former NASA astronaut and veteran of two space shuttle missions.

The Risk Control Innovations Program announced today will use multi-disciplinary teams from across NHTSA to address safety risks or problems that fall outside the agency's specialized programs and to develop individualized solutions.

"Our obligation to save lives and prevent injuries must include sober self-examination, and when we find weaknesses, we have to fix them," NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said. "These reports outline how NHTSA is already improving its systems for identifying and addressing vehicle safety defects, and offers options for building the workforce it needs to meet its obligations to the traveling public."

One report released today, "NHTSA's Path Forward," provides the results of a year-long due-diligence review Secretary Foxx requested in the wake of the GM ignition switch investigation. Based on weaknesses identified in the review, the report outlines changes to improve the agency's ability to hold manufacturers accountable collecting information more efficiently and auditing carmakers and their suppliers; expanding NHTSA's expertise on new and emerging technologies; implementing a systems safety approach designed to encourage questioning of assumptions; implementing new and improved data mining techniques; improving control of the investigative process; and strengthening internal and external communications.

The second report, "Workforce Assessment: The Future of NHTSA's Defects Investigations," has its origins in a 2011 recommendation by the Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG) that the agency assess whether the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) had the staff numbers and expertise required to carry out its mission. The report defines the need for short-term resource increases, as illustrated by President's Fiscal Year 2016 Budget, and provides a plan for strategic growth of the agency's capabilities. The assessment informed the budget request, which would roughly triple funding and double staffing for ODI. The report also outlines a new paradigm for its investigation workforce, based on an examination of workforce models at other safety agencies.

Read more about NHTSA's Safety Systems Team

Read "NHTSA's Path Forward"

Read "Workforce Assessment: The Future of NHTSA's Defects Investigations"

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