WASHINGTON -- Dr. Jeffrey Runge knows the joy of bringing emergency room patients back from the brink of death. But the job he has now is even more gratifying, he says.
"For me, this is the pinnacle of a career," says the government's chief regulator of vehicle safety.
Runge, 49, has headed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since August 2001. He said in an interview last week he is eager to stay in the job during President Bush's second term, if the president wants him.
Bush has shaken up major segments of his administration. But he has offered no indication of his plans for NHTSA and other parts of the Transportation Department.
"I serve at the pleasure of the president," Runge says. "If they've got somebody else they would rather have in this job, then I will happily depart and look back and say it was a great run. And if they ask me to stay, then I'll stay."
The industry likely would regard that prospect as a mixed blessing. Although Runge has not bashed automakers during his tenure at NHTSA, he has overseen a wave of tougher vehicle regulation.
Congress mandated much of that rule-making, but Runge has pushed some of it. Runge also has talked tough about the dangers of light trucks, the industry's main profit center.
A veteran industry lobbyist says automakers have been frustrated in some of their dealings with Runge. For example, they did not convince Runge of the challenges they face in meeting tougher fuel economy standards for trucks, the lobbyist says.
But another industry source says car companies generally would be satisfied if Runge remains at
NHTSA's helm because he is "a known quantity."
Elsewhere, the analysis is more positive.