Despite Obama administration pleas to triple spending on vehicle defect investigations, a Republican-controlled House appropriations subcommittee has passed a bill that would raise the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's overall budget by just $6.5 million over this year's level.
The House Appropriations Committee is expected to consider the $55.3 billion 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Bill next week. The legislation proposes spending that's $9.7 billion below the Obama administration's budget request.
The spending bill allocates an overall NHTSA budget of $837 million. In contrast, the U.S. Department of Transportation's spending proposal includes tripling the budget of the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI), a unit within NHTSA, and raising NHTSA's overall budget to $908 million. The ODI budget would account for $31.3 million.
"These are tight-budget times, and this legislation makes the most out of each and every transportation and housing dollar," said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), House appropriations chairman, in a released statement.
In the past year, NHTSA has came under fire during various Senate and House hearings held to address safety recall delays related to the defective General Motors ignition switches and Takata air bag inflators. But some legislators, including Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), have tempered their harsh criticism with acknowledgement that the federal safety agency is understaffed and underfunded.
During an April 10 speech at the New York International Auto Show, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind stressed the importance of strengthening the defect recall system.
"What has become clear over the past several months is that NHTSA requires additional authority under the law, as well as greater cooperation and effort from manufacturers and dealers, to ensure that vehicles with safety-related defects are removed from our roads before they can injure or kill," Rosekind said in the speech.
But in 2016, the safety agency may have to pursue those goals without the benefit of a substantially expanded staff.