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Which master are they serving?

There is a concept known as a “conflict of interest.” This occurs when someone or something is attempting to serve two masters. Attorneys are strongly cautioned to never accept representation of two parties who are adverse. The presumption is that if one is a zealous advocate for one side, one is shortchanging the other side.

Law firms have to be careful to avoid representing conflicting parties and sometimes must exercise elaborate due diligence to prevents conflicts. And government has to set up rules, to prevent conflicts between regulators and the regulated. Because the knowledge and connections of someone who was a highly-placed administrator with in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) could be invaluable to, say, a carmaker or their lobbying firms.

Invaluable to the carmaker, but dangerous for the driving public.

NHTSA is supposed to ensure the operational safety of cars sold in this country. And to some degree, they have succeeded. Cars today are safer than ever. However, the fact there are still more than 30,000 highway fatalities every year suggests we might be able to do a better job.

The massive recalls last year involving airbags and faulty ignition switches that NHTSA failed to discover, suggests that NHTSA still has room for improvement. And one way of improving NHTSA may be to reduce its role as marketing shill for the carmakers and the number of high-level administrators, who move from the agency to the auto companies, which by one count exceed 40 over a 25-year period.

They say a servant cannot not have two masters, so perhaps we should remind them that they are public servants. And provide adequate funding to ensure they can complete that mission.

pal-item.com, “Revolving door at NHTSA creates unholy alliance,” Dan Becker and James Gerstenzang, March 9, 2015

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