Consumer Watchdog today warned that an ongoing revolving door between top government auto safety officials and the manufacturers of autonomous vehicles undercuts the public’s faith in robot car regulations and government policies.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest group’s warning came after Uber announced it had hired Nat Beuse, a senior National Highway Traffic Safety Administration official. Beuse, NHTSA Associate Administrator, Vehicle Safety Research, is at least the sixth senior safety official to leave a government position to work for robot car manufacturers.
“You can’t trust regulations to protect our safety when the people writing them land high paying jobs with the very companies the rules are supposed to cover,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy and Technology Project director.
Consumer Watchdog called on public officials to restore public trust in the regulatory process by agreeing not to take jobs immediately in the industry they had just regulated.
“People serving in top government auto safety positions should not take jobs with, serve as a consultant to, or become a lawyer for a company developing self-driving car technology for seven years after leaving their government post,” said Simpson.
Last week Waymo, formerly Google’s self-driving car unit, announced it had hired Debbie Hershman, former National Transportation Safety Board Chair as its chief safety officer. Earlier Ron Medford, former Deputy Director of NHTSA, joined Google’s self-driving car program as Safety Director.
Former NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind joined robot car startup Zoox last year, while NHTSA’s former Chief Counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh went to oversee legal and policy work on automated vehicles for General Motors.
David L. Strickland, also a former NHTSA administrator, serves as counsel and spokesman for the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, comprised of Waymo, Lyft, Uber, Ford and Volvo.
Unfortunately, NHTSA’s revolving door is not a recent development with the advent of robot cars, Consumer Watchdog noted. From 1984 to 2010 the Department of Transportation inspector general found that 40 officials left NHTSA for jobs with automakers, their law firms or auto industry consultants. The group included four administrators, two deputy administrators, seven associate administrators and two chief counsels.
In addition, 23 auto industry executives moved into top NHTSA jobs from 1999 to 2010, the Inspector General said.
“The practice has become so commonplace that potential NHTSA employees must anticipate that agolden parachute will awaitthem when they jump ship to land at anautomotive or technology company,” said Simpson.“Is it any wonder that the people doubt NHTSA is looking after the public’s safety?”