Two former regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration took a spin through the revolving door and landed at Toyota, where they helped quash at least four NHTSA investigations into unintended acceleration, Bloomberg News reports.
The former regulators, Christopher Tinto and Christopher Santucci, both joined Toyota directly from the NHTSA, Tinto in 1994 and Santucci in 2003. Tinto is now vice president of regulatory affairs in Toyota’s Washington office, and Santucci works under him.
Since 2003, NHTSA has opened eight investigations into unintended acceleration of Toyota vehicles; of those, five were closed after finding no evidence of a defect. According to Bloomberg, “In four of the five cases that were closed, Tinto and Santucci worked with NHTSA on Toyota’s responses to the consumer complaints the agency was investigating, agency documents show.”
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What’s more, Toyota appears to be the only big automaker that hires former regulators to deal with the NHTSA: Spokesmen for General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and Honda all told Bloomberg that their companies have no ex-NHTSA staffers dealing with the agency on defects.
While Santucci and Tinto broke no rules — the lower-level positions they held at the NHTSA don’t have required waiting periods — Allan Kam, former NHTSA senior enforcement attorney, said, “They’re not supposed to deal with the agency about a matter they dealt with at the agency.”
When asked about former staffers’ potential influence on agency decisions, Transportation Department spokeswoman Olivia Alair told Bloomberg that NHTSA “currently has three open investigations involving Toyota and is monitoring two major safety recalls involving Toyota vehicles. NHTSA’s record reflects that safety is its singular priority.”
Toyota spokeswoman Martha Voss said, “Anything Mr. Tinto and Mr. Santucci did was in the interest of full disclosure, transparency and openness with regulators and safety experts.” She declined to make them available for comment.