CORPORATE CRIME REPORTER

NHTSA Doesn't Tell The Public When It Fines Automakers: Why Not?

19 Corporate Crime Reporter 3(3), January 14, 2005

Unlike almost every other enforcement agency in the federal government, the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency (NHTSA) doesn’t inform the public when it fines or otherwise sanctions a large corporation.


NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson said that the agency’s policy is to announce the fines at the end of the year.


On December 29, 2004, NHTSA put out a press release listing $10 million in fines it assessed against auto makers in 2004.


Last week, Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, alerted reporters to the details of a $1 million fine against General Motors for failing to disclose a problem that caused windshield wipers to stop working in tens of thousands of its sport-utility vehicles.


NHTSA collected the fine in July 2004.


When asked why NHTSA does not put out timely press releases announcing major enforcement actions, Tyson said “that’s not the way we have ever done it.”


But former NHTSA administrator and now president of Public Citizen Joan Claybrook said that “we always put out a press release when we sanctioned a company.”


“The current NHTSA doesn’t want to communicate the information to the public,” Claybrook said. “This is the most secretive agency that I have seen in recent years.”


“Why did they put out the press release on December 29 in the afternoon, the Wednesday before the New Year’s holiday weekend?” Ditlow asked. “Because the auto industry is their constituency, not the consumer.”


Tyson denied that the secrecy was the result of an understanding with the automakers.


“We have no reason whatsoever to hide the fine against General Motors,” he said. “There would never be an agreement to withhold something of that nature.”


Tyson said the policy on press releases was made not by his press office, but by NHTSA chief counsel Jacqueline Glassman.


Glassman came to NHTSA from DaimlerChrysler AG, where she worked for seven years in the office of the general counsel.


She defended Chrysler against a 1996 lawsuit over California's lemon law.


Tyson said Glassman would not grant an interview, but that she would take questions by e-mail. But e-mailed questions to Glassman went unanswered.


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