Muzzling The Watchdog: Blame Congress, Not NHTSA

Last week testy legislators pilloried Susan Bailey, head of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, for the agency's slow-leak performance in the Firestone case. There's just one problem: Congress helped puncture the agency's effectiveness. In the 1980s, the Reagan Administration poleaxed nhtsa and other regulatory agencies as costly encumbrances to business. NHTSA's current budget is $392 million, a third less in real terms than it was in 1980.

Thus the scope of NHTSA's work has been reduced. Until 14 years ago, it examined some 13,000 accidents annually, often visiting the scene and inspecting cars. That figure is currently just 5,000. Morale,...

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