WASHINGTON -- President Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal 2016 would nearly triple funding for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration division that investigates vehicle safety defects, boosting a budget that had flat-lined for roughly a decade.
The White House proposed allocating $31.3 million to NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigation, up from around $11 million for the current fiscal year. The request would more than double the office’s headcount from 51 to 108 employees, including some 22 engineers, plus additional investigators, statisticians and other workers to bolster the department’s ability to detect and analyze safety defects.
The boost is part of a proposed plan to spend nearly $6 billion on NHTSA over the next six years, including $908 million in the 2016 fiscal year, a 9 percent increase from the agency’s current $830 million budget, most of which funds highway project grants administered by the states.
NHTSA faced heavy criticism from lawmakers and safety advocates last year over what were seen as lapses in its handling of the General Motors ignition switch and Takata airbag inflator cases, where deadly safety defects festered for years before leading to massive recalls.
Lawmakers have generally supported calls for increased funding for the agency, but several have pressed for broader reforms as well, such as expanded enforcement powers and a more arms-length relationship with the auto industry.
NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind, who took office in late December, has said several times since then that his agency is woefully underfunded, telling reporters last month that the resource shortage was “more severe than I realized from the outside.”
Currently, the NHTSA’ Office of Defect Investigation has just eight defect screeners, 16 defect investigators and four analysts responsible for spotting defect warning signs in the quarterly Early Warning Reporting filings made by automakers.
“With over 250 million registered vehicles in the U.S., this creates a tremendous data collection and analysis burden that will only continue to grow,” NHTSA said in a summary of Obama’s budget proposal for the agency.