New NHTSA safety teams established after two internal reports released

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | Tuesday, June 09, 2015

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has announced the creation of a new Safety Systems Team (SST) for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The announcement occurred in conjunction with the release of two internal reports from NHTSA that address the many concerns raised by the General Motors ignition switch recall.

SST is a three-person group composed of outside experts who will advise NHTSA on implementing changes discussed within the two reports, “NHTSA’s Path Forward” and “Workforce Assessment: The Future of NHTSA’s Defects Investigations.”

The Safety Systems Team includes the following:

  • Dr. James P. Bagian – Engineer and former NASA astronaut. Director of the Center for Healthcare Engineering and Patient Safety with expertise in the fields of human factors, aviation (former mechanical engineer at U.S. Naval Air Test Center), and patient safety.
  • Dr. J. Victor Lebacqz – Former associate administrator, Office of Aeronautics at NASA where he had overall technical, programmatic and personnel management responsibility. Has B.S.E., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Aeronautical Engineering, all from Princeton.
  • Dr. Joseph Kolly – Director of National Transportation Safety Board Office of Research and Engineering. Oversees the Board’s materials and recorders laboratories, as well as the vehicle performance and safety research divisions, according to his NTSB bio. Holds a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering.


“NHTSA’s Path Forward” is a response to the massive GM ignition switch recall that went unnoticed for several years. Last February, GM announced a safety defect in ignition switches that it was aware of since 2001. Although GM failed to acknowledge the defect, NHTSA also came under fire for failing to discover and act on the issues under its jurisdiction.

The report found that GM withheld information and that NHTSA failed to hold GM accountable for providing adequate information. NHTSA also did not consider alternate theories offered by internal and external sources. Furthermore, the administration did not identify or follow up on trends in its own data sources and investigations. Suggested future actions include enhancing information management, establishing improved controls for assessing potential defects, and increasing the knowledge-base of new technologies.

“Workforce Assessment: The Future of NHTSA’s Defects Investigation” focuses less on the GM defect incident and more on the structure of the administration. The report requests additional staff, resources, and technology to ensure maximum efficiency.

NHTSA has also launched the Risk Control Innovations Program. The internal program will accumulate NHTSA staff to address highway safety risks. Composed of multidisciplinary teams, it will look into and develop solutions for issues that typically fall outside of NHTSA’s specialized programs.

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