And that remains true. As the Bush Administration looks for someone to oversee the agency that's responsible for setting safety standards in the auto industry, it is well aware that the new administrator will face several troublesome issues. At the top of the list will be Firestone tires and whether the agency should expand the recall of those tires; in fact, the Firestone mess beleaguered the Clinton Administration's outgoing NHTSA administrator, Sue Bailey. Other issues that the new administrator will have to confront include regulatory decisions on air bags, automobile rollover standards, and child-safety seats.
On the regulatory issues, Stone believes that President Bush's NHTSA will side with automakers far more often than the Clinton Administration did -- even though Norman Mineta, the new Administration's sole Democratic Cabinet member, sits atop the Transportation Department. "Let's face it -- this is a Republican Administration, and they're not as interested in regulatory issues," she said.
Diane Steed, who was Ronald Reagan's NHTSA administrator from 1983-89 and who currently serves on the Bush transportation advisory team, doesn't believe that the new administrator could get away with being the auto industry's lackey. "Any administrator who does that will get killed," she said, because the job description puts so much emphasis on ensuring safety. Instead, she says, the new NHTSA will work to strike a better balance between regulating the industry and promoting safety (by, for example, working to increase seat belt use). Previous Democratic Administrations, Steed contends, spent too much of their time beating up the auto industry with regulations. "It has to be a balanced approach," she said.
Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, says that Big Business doesn't always get what it wants from Republican Administrations; she points to the examples of Richard Nixon creating the Environmental Protection Agency and George H.W. Bush signing the 1990 Clean Air Act. "I think, as Michael Jordan is finding out, there is no slam dunk in Washington anymore," she said. Return to main story