WASHINGTON -- A Senate Commerce Committee lawyer will be appointed by President Barack Obama to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is responsible for auto safety and fuel economy, an administration official said Friday.
David Strickland is senior counsel to the Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, which oversees NHTSA. His nomination has to be approved by the Senate.
“The agency is in need of strong leadership, and David is an outstanding selection,” said committee chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va.
Strickland would replace acting administrator Ron Medford. Obama's first nominee, Charles Hurley, withdrew after his nomination was criticized by environmentalists.
NHTSA, which is part of the Department of Transportation, came under fire from auto dealers this year for its administration of the unexpectedly popular cash-for-clunkers program.
The $3 billion program provided rebates of as much as $4,500 to almost 700,000 people who swapped trade-ins for new, more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Many dealers who provided the customer rebates complained that they weren't being reimbursed within the 10-day time limit imposed by the legislation. They also complained of computer bottlenecks and faulty claim rejections.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood responded by upgrading the computers used to receive claims and by sharply increasing public and private personnel assigned to the understaffed program.
NHTSA also is responsible, along with EPA, for overseeing the administration's proposal to raise fuel economy standards to 35.5 mpg by 2016. The public comment period on the plan ended Nov. 27.
The agency also has been enforcing a host of auto recalls for defective parts, including Toyota Motor Corp.'s recent recall of 3.8 million Camrys and other models for sudden-acceleration problems.