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Strickland Takes Express to Lobbytown

Well, we cracked open our virtual newspaper the other morning and found a bunch of non-news – winter is cold, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s a bully, and such. On the inside page, however, was a non-news story of particular interest: Former NHTSA Administrator David Strickland is leaving public service to re-enter public service as a lobbyist for the venerable firm of Venable LLP, which describes its business thus:

 "As the federal government’s regulatory reach expands, it is more important than ever to have a finger on the pulse of legislative and executive branch decision makers in Washington. Long recognized as one of the capitol’s leading law firms, Venable’s Washington office helps clients understand how evolving regulatory and policy issues can affect their businesses. The firm also assists clients in making their voices heard as policy is being crafted through both direct lobbying and the management of numerous issue-focused industry coalitions."

On its website, Venable boasts about helping clients clear regulatory hurdles, and successfully defending clients in product liability cases involving asbestos, tobacco, automobiles, industrial chemicals, and consumer electronics, as one of the nation’s “top defense firms.”

In hiring Strickland, Venable described him thus:

“An advocate for public safety on the roads, David has impressed the industry with his accomplishments,” said Brock R. Landry, co-chair of Venable’s Government Division. “From the Hill to the Administration, David is well respected and understands the often complex regulatory process from different points of view. He will play a key role in the ongoing growth of our Government Affairs, Automotive, and Technology practices.”

 

We think that the thing industry will be most impressed by was the pass David Strickland gave Toyota’s electronics in the Unintended Acceleration crisis. Sure, the government fined Toyota to the max. But the automaker only had to pay penalties for failing to mount timely recalls for floor mat interference and sticky accelerator pedals. NHTSA whitewashed the problems of Toyota’s electronic throttle control system. And, it was still chump change to the automaker. More importantly, it gave Toyota a federal cover in litigation against claims of an electronics defect. And, while the explosive Bookout verdict kinda blew that cover off with the conclusion of two respected experts that Toyota’s software was dangerous spaghetti code, (See Toyota Unintended Acceleration and the Big Bowl of “Spaghetti” Code) Strickland, as Robin to Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s Batman, did his part.

NHTSA has already rendered some awesome service to one of Venable’s clients Fiat, which owns Chrysler and the myriad safety problems of its Jeep Grand Cherokee. In 2013, according to OpenSecrets.org, Fiat paid Venable $180,000 for work involving the Chrysler Group. That would be the same company that the agency permitted to slide through a post-crash fuel-fed fire problem with a cheap and dubious remedy. (See Crazy Ray’s Giveaway) Chrysler, you may recall, was refusing to recall some Jeep Grand Cherokee models that featured an aft-axle fuel tank design that made it vulnerable to and an outlier in rear-impact crash fires. Last summer, LaHood and Strickland met with Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne to hammer out a deal. Chrysler agreed to equip 1.5 million, 1993-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokees and the 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty SUVs with trailer tow hitches, based on zero evidence that such an addition would provide any protection to the fuel tank in a rear-impact. Like the Toyota “resolution,” the Chrysler deal provides the public with the appearance that something is being done to improve safety, without actually doing anything to improve safety.

With all of Strickland’s experience, he’ll be a natural in working with some of

Venable’s other clients, such as the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association and the National Association of Manufacturers

Legal-wise, Strickland isn’t supposed to be playing any “key” roles in any government affairs lobbying. He presumably took an oath under Executive Order 13490, issued by the Obama administration in 2009:

 Revolving Door Ban -- All Appointees Entering Government.  I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.

 

Yet, he joins a long and hallowed tradition of NHTSA’s top echelon cashing in at the end of their government careers by working directly for the auto industry, or for the legal firms that work for them. The tide of individuals moving in and out of government and industry jobs is so much a fixture of Washington DC life that no one in the nation’s capital can find anything wrong with it. In April 2011, a report by the DOT’s Inspector General 63 employees who have either left NHTSA for employment in the auto industry or left the auto industry for employment with NHTSA since 1984. The IG then reviewed 65 safety defect investigation cases involving, or potentially involving, these 63 employees and found no evidence of undue pressure or influence on the Office of Defects Investigation.

That list was redacted, but here are some of the officials who might have been on it and some more recent departures:

Ronald Medford NHTSA’s deputy director since 2009, Medford left in November 2012 to take over Google’s driverless car effort as Director of Safety for Self-Driving Cars.

Erika Z. Jones  Now a partner at Washington lobbying firm Mayer Brown, was the NHTSA Chief Counsel between 1985 and 1989. From 1981 to 1985, she was Special Counsel to the Administrator of NHTSA during the Reagan Administration, and worked for appointees Raymond Peck Jr., who immediately set about undoing the work of his predecessor Administrator Joan Claybrook, and Peck’s successor, Diane K. Steed. Jones is still involved in many defect issues, representing automakers.

Diane K. Steed NHTSA Administrator from 1983-1989, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, left the agency and became president of the Coalition for Vehicle Choice, a front group for the auto industry, which lobbied heavily to protect manufacturer’s choice to build SUVs that rolled easily.

Jerry R. Curry Steed’s replacement, under President George Bush, the first, left the agency to work as an expert witness for the auto industry. His most distinguished accomplishment during his tenure at the agency was closing the Bronco II rollover investigation. He distinguished himself further by testifying for Ford, Chrysler, Nissan, Suzuki and Hyundai. In 1997, agency pulled the plug, telling Curry that he shouldn’t testify in Bronco II cases because he, you know, shut the investigation down. Curry was quoted in a news article as saying, he would just quit because he didn’t need this bull-whatever.

Sue Bailey, acting NHTSA administrator during the final months of the Clinton Administration, was the government's most visible official during congressional hearings and the controversy that swirled around defective Firestone Wilderness tires and the role of the Ford Explorer in more than 200 American deaths. While questions remained about the safety of the Explorer, Bailey became a consultant to Ford.  Ford wanted Bailey on-board because "this is a public health issue, and she is an expert on public health issues," according to Ford spokesman Jason Vines.

Donald Bischoff, Bischoff was NHTSA executive director.  Within weeks of leaving NHTSA, Bishoff was reportedly consulting for the newly formed Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

George Parker Parker was the Associate Administrator for Enforcement and for Research and Development at NHTSA. He left NHTSA in 1995 to become vice president of engineering affairs at the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers.

Barry Felrice Felrice worked at NHTSA for 20 years. He held the position of Associate Administrator for Plans and Programs from 1978-1984 and was Associate Administrator for Rulemaking from 1984-1996. Shortly after retiring in 1996, he became the Director of Regulatory Affairs at the American Automobile Manufacturers Association.  He now handles federal regulatory affairs for DaimlerChrysler.

William Boehly Boehly joined NHTSA in 1969 and left in January 1997. He ran the agency's center for statistics and analysis, worked in NHTSA's office of vehicle rulemaking, and served as Associate Administrator for Enforcement and Associate Administrator for Research and Development.  Shortly after leaving NHTSA, he began testifying as an expert witness on behalf of auto makers.  He was hired in November of 1998 to be chief executive officer and president of the Automotive Occupant Restraints Council, an organization of airbag and seatbelt manufacturers.  In March 1999, Boehly was appointed vice president of vehicle safety with the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, Inc.

Jacqueline Glassman Prior to being named Chief Counsel at NHTSA in March 2002 by President Bush, Jacqueline Glassman was with the Office of General Counsel at DaimlerChrysler. She was a member of Chrysler Corporation's defense team in a 1996 lawsuit over California's "lemon law" in which Chrysler was charged with reselling 119 defective cars and trucks that had been returned by consumers. Despite repeated inquiries from the media in February, NHTSA officials denied the imminent appointment until consumer safety advocates coerced an announcement from the regulatory agency. During her tenure at Chrysler and its successor DaimlerChrysler, Glassman was an unrepentant defender of the auto maker's ongoing lemon laundering woes. She left NHTSA in 2006 to work for Hogan Lovell, as a member of the Legislative and Surface Transportation practice groups.

George Feygin A staffer at the Office of Chief Counsel, 2002-2006, where he worked on rulemaking and legal interpretations of federal motor vehicle safety standards. Feygin left NHTSA to become Senior Counsel for Nissan North America

 

Huh. Former government officials don’t influence anything. Why do these large gazillion dollar lobbying firms keep hiring them?

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