Biden Taps Acting NHTSA Chief to Be Agency’s Permanent Head
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden has nominated a former California environmental regulator and the acting chief of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to run the agency full time.
NHTSA, the federal regulator charged with keeping U.S. roads safe, is now in its fourth year without a permanent administrator.
Biden has faced pressure from safety advocates in Washington to appoint a permanent NHTSA chief as the number of U.S. traffic deaths mounts even at a time of reduced driving due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Additionally, the agency has recently ramped up its politically fraught investigation of Tesla Inc. and may be on a collision course with the company,
Cliff has a doctorate in chemistry from the University of California, San Diego and researched atmospheric sciences at the University of California, Davis’ Department of Land, Air and Water Resources. He joined the school’s Applied Sciences department as a research professor, later becoming affiliated with the school’s Air Quality Research Center.
NHTSA in August opened a formal investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot system after almost a dozen collisions at crash scenes involving first-responder vehicles, stepping up scrutiny of a system safety groups had been complaining about for years. Last month, Tesla further came under scrutiny for beaming an over-the-air software update to its vehicles to improve how Autopilot handles such scenes without issuing a recall.
The agency has opened 28 probes into various auto-safety issues so far this year -- more than in all of 2020 or 2019, according to its website. NHTSA has more than 10 pending regulations that are overdue to be finalized under legislation passed by Congress, according to a list compiled by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
NHTSA is one of seven agencies under the U.S. Department of Transportation umbrella that are headed by administrators subject to Senate confirmation. Five of those seven DOT sub-agencies, including NHTSA, are currently led by deputy or acting administrators appointed by Biden when he took office in January.
“In the almost five years since NHTSA has had a Senate confirmed administrator, vehicle crash deaths have significantly increased while the agency has too often failed to utilize either its enforcement or regulatory authority,” said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, which lobbies for more stringent auto safety rules.
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