Washington — The Senate is nearing an agreement to confirm the next head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
National Transportation Safety board member Mark Rosekind’s nomination was “hotlined” Friday — an informal request to members of the Senate to agree to allow a nomination or resolution to be approved by the Senate without debate or amendment.
The Senate is expected to be in session at most another day or two. Senate aides think Rosekind will get through and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D, said earlier this week he expected Rosekind to be approved.
NHTSA has been without a permanent administrator as it faces a record-setting nearly 60 million vehicles recalled this year. The agency is also facing scrutiny about how it holds automakers accountable and ensures that unsafe cars are quickly repaired.
On Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved the nomination of Mark Rosekind to head NHTSA on a voice vote.
Rosekind, a former NASA scientist and expert on human fatigue, has been a member of the National Transportation Safety Board since 2010. He has been the on-scene board member for many significant crashes, including an April incident that killed 10 when a FedEx truck slammed into a bus carrying high school students in Northern California.
Last week, Rosekind vowed to boost the agency’s personnel and technology in testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee.
Rosekind said if automakers don’t act on safety issues, “NHTSA needs to be the enforcer.”
He acknowledges that work needs to be done and the challenges are “tremendous.”
“We need to increase — not just the people, but also the technology,” Rosekind said. He raised concerns about the “slowness across all of the (auto) recalls.”
The highway safety agency has come under harsh criticism for not doing more. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said last week NHTSA “is neither feared nor respected” by automakers.
“These companies are way more afraid of a civil lawsuit than they are of NHTSA,” she said. “If you are not feared and respected, then you cannot do a good job policing the safety of automobiles.”
McCaskill questioned if the administration has been taking NHTSA’s job seriously.
On Oct. 31, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx confirmed he’s ordered a review of how regulators handled a recall of millions of vehicles by 10 major automakers for Takata Corp. air bags linked to four deaths in Honda vehicles since 2009.
Senators from both parties have faulted the White House for leaving NHTSA’s top slot vacant for nearly a year, after David Strickland resigned.
Last week, Rosekind recounted his own personal history with auto safety. His father, a San Francisco police officer, was killed in 1958 when a driver went through a red light.