Democratic Revolving Door Spins: Former Obama NHTSA Chief David Strickland to General Motors

David Strickland, who was the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) under President Obama and most recently was staff director of the Democratic controlled Senate Committee on Commerce, is moving to General Motors.

David Strickland

GM announced that Strickland will become vice president for global regulatory affairs, replacing Bob Babik who will retire on January 1, 2022 following two decades of service with GM.

The move coincides with an announcement from NHTSA that it will open a new probe into potentially defective Takata airbags. 

Strickland was at NHTSA when the Takata case was percolating.

“David Strickland is the grand master of Washington’s revolving door,” said Jerry Cox who blew the whistle on the Takata scandal in his book Killer Airbags. “Strickland ran NHTSA when an investigation into Takata’s airbags closed before it got started. He went to work for car companies, then returned to the Senate to conduct ‘oversight’ of the agency he led. Now he has a senior position at General Motors, which has more unrepaired Takata airbags on American highways than any other car maker. It’s classic.”

Takata’s ammonium nitrate inflators were ticking time bombs, with some exploding like hand grenades, blowing shrapnel into the passenger compartment and severely injuring or killing passengers.

In January 2017, Takata plead guilty and paid a total of $1 billion in criminal penalties stemming from the company’s fraudulent conduct in relation to sales of the defective airbag inflators.

Cox says that more than thirty people worldwide – including nineteen in the U.S. – have been killed and more than 400 injured worldwide by Takata airbags.

Forty million vehicles with the Takata inflators have been recalled in the United States.

But there was a carve out – 25 million vehicles with Takata airbags with ammonium nitrate inflators that had an added desiccant were not recalled. And an additional five million vehicles that were recalled had their inflators replaced with Takata air bags with a dessicant added on the theory that the desiccant would delay any deterioration.

In an interview with Corporate Crime Reporter in 2020, Cox said that “the people who designed those inflators, the Takata whistleblowers, insist that the desiccant in those inflators will saturate.” 

“When they saturate you will have exactly the same problem with the ammonium nitrate in those inflators that you have with the ones that have killed people,” Cox said.

Earlier this month, one of those whistleblowers, John Keller, was digging around on the internet and came across a list of cars with those desiccated inflators – 25 million that had them as original equipment and five million that had them installed when the original non-desiccated inflators were recalled.

This surprised Keller.

Keller had filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking such a list, but was told by NHTSA that no such list existed.

What Keller also found is that NHTSA had opened a new investigation into the desiccated inflators and attached the list that NHTSA told him didn’t exist.

“It is understood that desiccants fully saturate at some threshold, at which point any additional moisture will not be captured,” NHTSA said in its Office of Defects Investigation memo. “This means the degradation process observed in non-desiccated inflators using propellant 2004 may also occur in non-recalled desiccated inflators using propellant 2004, assuming additional moisture enters the inflator and high temperature cycling occurs. Based on available information, desiccant saturation can occur within the first five years in the worst environments, and the time required for full saturation is affected by multiple factors. While no present safety risk has been identified, further work is needed to evaluate the future risk of non-recalled desiccated inflators using [the propellant].” 

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