Biden Nominates Ann Carlson to Head NHTSA

President Biden announced on February 13 that he will nominate Ann Carlson, the Deputy Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to head that agency. The nomination will be formally transmitted once the Senate comes back from the President’s Day recess week.

Carlson has been serving as Acting Administrator since last September, when Steve Cliff quit the post just three months after the Senate finally confirmed him.

Carlson, like Cliff, was part of the “Day One” team of first-wave Biden appointees announced on January 21, 2021. Originally, Cliff was named Deputy Administrator and then, seconds later, named Acting Administrator as well, while Carlson was Chief Counsel. Now, Carlson is Deputy/Acting.

Like Cliff, Carlson also came to NHTSA from an air pollution background, not an auto safety background. She was an environmental law professor, founder of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, and co-edited a book called “Lessons from the Clean Air Act.”

However, as ETW never gets tired of pointing act, while Clean Air Act and greenhouse gas rulemaking may be the most politically sensitive thing that NHTSA does, that kind of rulemaking only uses perhaps 2 percent of the total NHTSA budget. In terms of manpower, it’s a little higher, with perhaps 40 or 50 NHTSA employees dealing with CAFE rules and compliance (if the full budget request is approved), so it’s maybe 4 to 6 percent of the full-time equivalent employees.

NHTSA’s primary duties, by law, are “to reduce traffic accidents and deaths and injuries resulting from traffic accidents. Therefore it is necessary-(1) to prescribe motor vehicle safety standards for motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment in interstate commerce; and (2) to carry out needed safety research and development” (49 U.S.C.§30101) and “to assist and cooperate with other Federal departments and agencies, State and local governments, private industry, and other interested parties, to increase highway safety” (23 U.S.C. §401).

Presumably, this is why the White House, in its announcement of the nomination, trumpeted the work on actual vehicle safety regulations that has been done while Carlson has been Chief Counsel.

The nomination will be referred to the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee (when transmitted) for an eventual hearing.

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