WASHINGTON -- Heidi King, an economist with federal government and private-sector experience, has been appointed the new deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Trump administration has yet to name an administrator for the safety agency, which has been led for the past eight months by Jack Danielson, a career staffer and fourth in the chain of command at the agency.
Many other top positions remain vacant, but NHTSA spokesperson Rebecca Grapsy confirmed that King was appointed last week as deputy administrator.
Her appointment does not require approval by the Senate.
“She’s very smart and thoughtful. She’s very good at finding creative solutions to difficult problems,” Susan Dudley, her boss at OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, told Automotive News.
King, she added, worked well with a variety of agencies to iron out competing interests on regulations routed to the White House for review.
“I think that will be important as NHTSA looks to regulate autonomous vehicles,” said Dudley, who now directs George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center.
The naming of a deputy ahead of an administrator is unusual but not without precedent, according to analysts.
"It could be a sign that the Department of Transportation intends to run NHTSA from the secretary's office rather than as a safety agency," said Jack Gillis, director of public affairs for the Consumer Federation of America.
DOT Secretary Elaine Chao held the No. 2 post at the department during President George H.W. Bush's administration and has prior experience managing NHTSA.
King was global director of environment, health and safety risk for GE Capital until December, according to her LinkedIn profile. From 2011 to 2013, she served as chief economist for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees NHTSA's light-vehicle fuel economy and safety programs.
"She's highly respected and brilliant," a Capitol Hill staff person said on condition of anonymity because of restrictions on talking to the press. "She's one of those people who digs into the subject matter and who is very personable. People like to interact with her."
King previously worked for three and a half years as a regulatory policy analyst at the Office of Management and Budget, part of the White House staff.
She has an advanced degree in economics from the California Institute of Technology and received a bachelor's at the University of California, Irvine, according to LinkedIn.
Among the issues on her plate will be re-evaluating light-vehicle fuel economy standards for 2022-25, accelerating the replacement of faulty Takata airbags under recall, autonomous vehicle safety standards and adopting rules and guidelines for new safety technologies.