White House seeks to nearly triple NHTSA defect budget

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The White House on Monday proposed to triple the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s defect investigation budget to $31.3 million, as the agency pledged to step up efforts to alert motorists about uncompleted recalls.

That’s up from $9.7 million in the current budget year and $10.6 million in 2014. Automakers recalled nearly 64 million vehicles in 2014 — more than twice the previous record of 30.8 million that was set in 2004. NHTSA would more than double personnel, and add new equipment and data mining tools.

The budget proposal came after members of Congress criticized NHTSA in the wake of General Motors Co.’s delayed recall of 2.6 million cars with defective ignition switches that are linked to at least 51 deaths.

NHTSA’s defects team has remained flat for a decade. Under the proposal, that team would initially rise from 28 to 56.5 full-time equivalent positions. It wants to hire a mathematician, two statisticians, 16 engineers and four new investigators.

The six-year $478 billion proposal calls for steady increases for NHTSA’s vehicle and research programs — from $269 million this year to $414 million in 2021.

The Transportation Department said the massive increase was needed to “improve its effectiveness and meet growing challenges to identify safety defects quickly, ensure remedies are implemented promptly and inform the public of critical information in an effective manner.”

NHTSA vowed to increase the rate at which recalls are actually completed. The department said that with added resources, NHTSA would develop a consumer awareness campaign for owners to get recalled cars fixed.

The Transportation Department said the increased funds would help identify defect trends as automotive technology becomes more complex. Funds would help integrate accident reports, fatalities, manufacturers’ data, medical records and social media to identify problems.

Separately, the White House is again proposing boosting electric vehicle tax incentives to $10,000 — up from the current $7,500 — and expand it to other advanced technology vehicles like compressed natural gas. It wants to convert the credit to a point-of-sale rebate. But that proposal has gone nowhere.

NHTSA would also boost funding for vehicle safety technology to $935 million over six years. The Energy Department also seeks funding to continue the $25 billion Advanced Vehicle Technology Manufacturing program in place, even though it hasn’t made a new loan in nearly four years.