A congressional committee is highlighting today the role that Toyota's Washington lobbyists played in limiting its recent recalls.
Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, suggested that the lobbyists pursued a limited recall at the expense of safety concerns. Towns made the comments in an opening statement as his committee began the second congressional hearing in as many days on reports of sudden, unexpected acceleration in some Toyota vehicles.
“There is striking evidence,” Towns said, “that the company was at times more concerned with profit than customer safety.”
Towns referenced a 10-page slideshow that became public Sunday in which company employees appear to brag about saving more than $100 million because they “negotiated” a recall related to sudden acceleration. The document and others, Towns said, “indicate that a premium was placed on delaying or closing [federal safety] investigations, delaying new safety rules, and blocking the discovery of safety defects.”
The document (PDF) does not name the lobbyists who advocated for the company before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
But two former employees of the regulator helped to end at least four investigations into unintended acceleration in engine speeds, Bloomberg News reported this month. The Toyota employees named by Bloomberg News are Christopher Tinto, vice president for regulatory affairs in Toyota's Washington office, and Christopher Santucci, who works for Tinto. They joined Toyota directly from NHTSA.
Testifying before the committee this morning, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood defended the safety agency. He called it the most effective agency of its kind “in the world,” noting that it takes in 30,000 complaints every year.
“We take every one seriously. We look at every one. We don’t set any of them aside,” LaHood said. He added that the agency is investigating whether Toyota told the government about its safety problems in a timely way.
Still, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said he was concerned about the role played by former regulators who now work in the private sector. “The appearance is what the people are very concerned about,” Burton said.