Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., was one of the lawmakers who signed a letter to the GSA chief making the request.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., was one of the lawmakers who signed a letter to the GSA chief making the request. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Lawmakers Urge Federal Government to Stop Selling Defective Cars to the Public

House Democrats say agency is putting American public’s safety at risk.

Lawmakers have asked the General Services Administration to stop selling defective cars formerly used by federal agencies, saying the practice is in conflict with Uncle Sam's responsibility to look out for the well being of Americans.

Democratic Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Ill.; Frank Pallone, N.J.; G.K. Butterfield, N.C.; and Lois Capps, Calif., wrote a letter to GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth making the request following a Circa investigation that found the agency sold vehicles that had been under recall for safety defects. GSA publicly auctions around 40,000 of the federal government's 637,000 vehicles annually, but Circa found in a sample that “hundreds” of those automobiles had “dangerous open recalls” with “potentially deadly defects.”

In August, one in five GSA vehicles up for auction had open recalls. The practice is legal, and GSA said it warns bidders “there may be outstanding recalls” on the vehicles it sells.

Still, the lawmakers expressed “profound disappointment” with GSA and called on the agency to end the sale of potentially defective vehicles altogether.

“The GSA is responsible for the federal government’s auto fleet, and Americans expect that their government will look out for their safety,” they wrote. “No federal agency should use or sell cars that are unsafe. The GSA should lead by example by fixing all actionable recalls.”

They added that failing to fix defective vehicles before selling them or at least notifying the buyer of the problem “maybe be technically legal, but it is not right.”

The lawmakers further called on GSA to “take immediate action” to reduce vehicles currently in the federal fleet with outstanding recalls. Circa found several examples in which federal employees were for months driving vehicles that manufacturers had deemed defective. A GSA spokesperson said federal drivers “are notified of open recalls as soon as possible.”

GSA receives an “automated recall data feed” on a weekly basis from General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ford, and sends notifications to its agency customers leasing potentially defective vehicles. The agency plans to expand information supplied to its automated feed this fiscal year. The House members acknowledged GSA had a system for bringing back vehicles designated for recall that are leased out to other federal agencies, but GSA could then turn around and sell them.

“No one using a government-owned vehicle should have to worry that the vehicle is unsafe due to a known defect,” they wrote. They added they are working on a legislative fix to ban the sale of all vehicles under recall, but in the meantime the federal government should lead by example.

GSA has received the letter and is currently drafting a response. The spokesperson said 98 percent of vehicles sold in fiscal 2016 did not have an open recall that was “actionable,” a term the agency uses to determine when parts are immediately available to fix defects.

GSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “are working together to explore options to effectively enhance current practices and minimize the number of vehicles with open recalls in the federal fleet,” the spokesperson said. 

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