NHTSA just appointed a lobbyist working for Takata airbags to oversee Fiat Chrysler’s (FCA) recall of millions of vehicles as an “independent” monitor. Four million of the FCA vehicles recalled were on the list due to defective Takata air bags, yet neither FCA nor Mark Rosekind, head of NHTSA, see a conflict of interest. Really?
Rodney Slater, former head of Transportation under President Clinton, is the new government monitor responsible for oversight of Fiat Chrysler’s (FCA) multi-million-vehicle recall. Some might think this is a great idea, until they find out that Slater is also a lobbyist working on behalf of Takata Corp. of Japan, the makers of faulty air bags. Tens of millions of vehicles have been recalled due to the Takata air bag issue and four million of those are… you guessed it: FCA vehicles. Many believe Slater’s FCA oversight is one huge conflict of interest.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ordered FCA to hire an independent monitor after FCA behaved badly in 23 recalls. FCA handpicked three candidates and told NHTSA, “Here, you pick one.” And NHTSA picked Slater. The agency responsible for traffic safety just put the fox in charge of the chicken coop.
NHTSA spokesperson Gordon Trowbridge said Slater was upfront with FCA and NHTSA about his connections to Takata. “The company and NHTSA both examined that and determined that for the purpose of monitoring Fiat Chrysler’s compliance with the consent order that it was not a conflict of interest.”
I, and several safety advocates, beg to differ.
Executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, Clarence Ditlow, said, “You can’t have someone overlooking their recalls that also represents a company that makes defective parts. You can’t have someone who has two masters, and Slater has two masters.”
Indeed. Former NHTSA head under President Carter also opposed Slater’s appointment. “Chrysler has hired Slater because they want a yes man. This completely undercuts the important work NHTSA has done in showing Chrysler has violated safety recall rules. There is a clear need for an independent monitor.”
Slater’s connections to Takata are no small affair, either. He is a partner in Squire Patton Boggs, a Washington lobbying and law firm. Congressional lobbying disclosure reports state that Slater’s firm has received over $1.3M since December 2014 to lobby on behalf of TK Holdings, Inc., Takata’s parent company. The reports also show Slater as a lobbyist appearing before Congress and the Transportation department in matters concerning air bags.
Slater is a partner with Washington lobbying and law firm Squire Patton Boggs. Congressional lobbying disclosure reports show the firm has been paid more $1.3 million since December to represent TK Holdings Inc., Takata’s parent company. The reports list Slater as lobbying Congress and the Transportation Department on air bag issues.
None of this seems to trouble Mark Rosekind, NHTSA’s administrator. He issued a statement saying, “After an independent evaluation by NHTSA, former Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater will serve as the independent monitor under NHTSA’s consent order with FCA U.S. In this role, Secretary Slater will have an important role in helping NHTSA oversee FCA’s compliance with the consent order and helping the company address the recall administration issues that necessitated NHTSA’s enforcement action. Secretary Slater will work with a team of attorneys to carry out these significant responsibilities. I welcome his assistance in NHTSA’s continuing efforts to protect American consumers from safety defects.”
Thank you, Mr. Rosekind. If you really believe that Slater will work for the best interests of the public’s safety, I have a bridge you might be interested in buying. Call me.