According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) estimates, 38,824 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020 on U.S. roads and highways, with even more projected to have died in 2021.
NHTSA was mandated to complete numerous rulemakings and reports to address safety and related issues by both the 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act).
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) review has found that, as of April 11, 2022, NHTSA completed all 19 reports and 6 of the 22 rulemakings required by these Acts. Agency officials and regulatory experts GAO interviewed cited administration priorities, issue complexity, and resource availability as factors affecting NHTSA’s completion of rulemakings and reports.
GAO found that NHTSA has not consistently followed leading project schedule management practices when developing mandated rulemakings and reports. These practices, which include establishing milestones and sequencing activities, can help manage project timeframes and reduce delays. While these practices should be applied to all stages of a project, NHTSA only consistently followed them for the review stage of its rulemaking and report processes, where NHTSA’s procedures specify that it do so. For example, NHTSA followed leading project schedule management practices for the review of a proposed rule on tire pressure standards, but not for the activities, such as securing and managing a research contract, needed to draft that proposed rule. Regulatory experts have noted that these time-consuming stages of the rulemaking process are important, as they influence the contents of rules.
Similarly, for each mandated report to Congress, GAO found that NHTSA followed leading project schedule management practices when reviewing draft reports, but not for the tasks needed to draft each report prior to review. While NHTSA has completed all of the reports mandated by MAP-21 and the FAST Act, it issued nearly all of these reports after their statutory deadlines, delaying information to Congress on topics such as traffic safety that are critical to congressional oversight.
Ultimately, GAO found that NHTSA could better achieve its safety mission by communicating more information about its rulemakings to members of Congress. Such information could guide funding and oversight decisions.
The government watchdog made four recommendations to NHTSA:
- update NHTSA’s rulemaking procedures to require the use of leading project schedule management practices for the activities needed to draft a proposed rule.
- update NHTSA’s procedures for developing reports to Congress to require the use of leading project schedule management practices for the activities needed to draft a report.
- provide additional information on incomplete rulemakings to Congress, including the substantive activities that NHTSA completed between rulemaking milestones. GAO adds that NHTSA could consider providing this information as part of the biannual reports required by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
- update NHTSA’s publicly available information, such as the Reports Sent to Congress webpage or the DOT Research Hub, to include mandated research reports.
NHTSA concurred with all four recommendations.