WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- The agency that botched a campaign to publicize a potentially lethal airbag defect affecting 7.8 million U.S. cars is reviewing its safety culture, according to a senior Obama administration official.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will also review whether the threshold for action set in the past is still appropriate, the official said today at a briefing with reporters in Washington.
The agency, which has been without a chief since January, may have one nominated within two weeks, the official said.
Congress is getting involved too. A growing number of airbag recalls is raising doubts about whether the agency learned lessons on handling defect investigations after the bungling of the General Motors Co. ignition switch recalls. NHTSA is now playing catch-up again as it tries to identify airbags that may inflate with so much force metal pieces can be flung at passengers.
“Drivers are being told they need to fix their cars immediately, yet they are directed to a website that isn’t working properly and are being told by dealers that they don’t have working parts,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan said in a statement. “Drivers are rightly confused and panicked.”
Upton’s committee said today it plans a private meeting next week with NHTSA officials about the airbag recalls.
NHTSA has been without an administrator since David Strickland stepped down in January. Throughout the year, which included managing the GM ignition-switch recall now tied to 29 deaths, NHTSA has been run by its deputy administrator, David Friedman.
NHTSA can’t rely of the lack of leadership as an excuse, the official said. The agency has a responsibility to perform, and the Transportation Department is doing a thorough review of its mistakes this week. Those included factual errors in an initial consumer advisory and a website that remained crashed for most of the week, he said.