WASHINGTON -- A government watchdog on Friday criticized NHTSA, saying the agency routinely fails to meet deadlines, its staff lack some key training, and it does not ensure all imported vehicles meet safety requirements.
The safety agency has faced significant delays in processing petitions to change or set new safety rules, among other issues, the Transportation Department's Inspector General said.
NHTSA also "lacks formal training and clear guidance for enforcing compliance" and is not meeting requirements for ensuring imported vehicles meet federal safety requirements, the audit added.
The report found "weaknesses in NHTSA's training and guidance limit its ability" to set and enforce motor vehicle safety rules.
NHTSA declined to comment beyond a letter included in the audit which said it would adopt the inspector general's six recommendations.
The agency has recently updated and improved processes to enhance oversight, boost compliance enforcement and monitoring of registered importers, the letter added.
Over 200,000 vehicles are imported annually, mostly from Canada, the audit said. Each requires a review, and NHTSA often fails to meet a 30-day deadline.
An audit sample found NHTSA approved 26 percent of imported vehicle requests not meeting all requirements. The agency lacks a standard process for reviewing vehicles, "increasing the risk of unsafe vehicles operating on U.S. roads," the report said.
NHTSA's Import and Certification Division office has nine employees, with two assigned to review the more than 200,000 yearly Canadian vehicle imports.
"NHTSA recently discovered that there are 1 million Takata airbags in Canada that the office is attempting to intercept before they potentially endanger the lives of American consumers," the report added.
Over the last decade, more than 100 million Takata air bag inflators have been recalled worldwide in the biggest ever auto safety callback because inflators can send deadly metal fragments flying in rare instances.
NHTSA lacks standard procedures and training for reviewing contractors' compliance test reports and has not implemented guidance for conducting compliance investigations, the audit added.
It also found 28 percent of 25 compliance investigations reviewed were not completed within a year.