National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Has Only 51 People to Track 250M Vehicles image

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has had its staff reduced by one-fifth and its budget stagnates for more than 10 years when the Congress decided to strengthen it.

Although no connection has been made between the staff cuts and the failure to earlier recall the 1.6 million GM vehicles, safety advocated believe that the NHTSA does not have enough resources to efficiently detect patterns and keep up with data.

“They’re getting information, and they’re not following up,” Sally Greenberg, president of the Washington-based National Consumers League said in a phone interview.

“They’re not capturing the information in a way that’s useful. They’re not responding quickly to a litany of similar complaints.”

Even if the number of US registered vehicles reached 248 million, the number of employees in NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigations dropped to only 51, from 64 in 2002. The office’s  budget has stopped at around $10 million annually since 2005.

“The idea of $10 million for an office that’s in charge of the safety of all these vehicles, undertaking investigations and doing the recalls, it’s just ridiculous,” said Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a Washington-based group that works with the insurance industry.

“You look at the number of people working on this, you look at their inadequate funding, and you think to yourself, no wonder this is happening over and over again.”

NHTSA believes that although low on resources it has done a great job as its investigations led to 929 recalls (55 million vehicles) over the past seven years. Since 2009 automakers have paid fines of more than $85 million  for failing in reporting defects on time and vehicle-related fatalities have reached historic lows.

Still, Jackie Gillan and other safety advocates are frustrated that presidents do not ask for an increase in funding and NHTSA staff.