CAS Letter to NHTSA Administrator Runge Re: Public Disclosure

July 10, 2002

Dr. Jeffrey Runge, Administrator
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
400 7th Street SW
Washington DC 20590

Dear Dr. Runge:

While at least 30 Americans including 13 police officers have burned to death in post-collision fuel-fed fires in 1992-2001 Ford Crown Victoria, Lincoln Town Car, and Mercury Grand Marquis vehicles, NHTSA has done its level best to conceal information from the public on this horrendous defect. First, the agency's latest list of Defect Investigations doesn't list an investigation into these vehicles even though NHTSA opened a service query, SQ01-014, on November 27, 2001.1 By opening a Service Query rather than a Preliminary Evaluation as recommended by staff, NHTSA kept this investigation out of public sight.

Although NHTSA maintains a public file on each defect investigation at its Technical Information Service (TIS), Service Queries are not routinely kept at TIS whose policy is to keep a complete file except for proprietary information for each defect investigation. Only a sketchy and incomplete file is kept for SQ01-004. On February 8, 2002, Ford responded to a December 14, 2001 information request from NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation (ODI). No notation was made in the public file regarding these omitted documents. Though the cover letter from Ford's response is contained in the public file, the documents supporting Ford's claims have been omitted. Only after placing a number of calls to NHTSA officials was CAS able to acquire an index to the public file of SQ01-014, which itself was not available in the file. According to the attached index, Ford's responsive documents have been placed into storage.

We find it incomprehensible that Ford's complete initial response to NHTSA is not contained nor referenced in the public file of SQ01-014. A voluminous response by GM to an information request made on December 14, 2001 (the same day as the Ford response) is included in its entirety in the public file, even though GM's vehicles are not those under scrutiny by the service query. As for the manufacturer under scrutiny, its submissions have been secreted away in a storage facility out of the public eye.

CAS requests the index referring to these missing documents be entered into the public file, so as not to further mislead members of the public. All documents from Ford including the attachments to its August 10 letter should be immediately included in the public viewing system at TIS. Without disclosure of these documents, Ford's self-serving claims cannot be rebutted by those involved in these deadly accidents and others who seek to assist them.

Sincerely,


Michael Brooks
Legal Staff


1 NHTSA publishes a monthly list of Defect Investigations on its Website. Although it is now July, the latest list is for April and March is missing. It is irregular actions such as these that led the DOT Inspector General to criticize the agency. "Review of the Office of Defects Investigation," MH-2002-071 (Jan. 3, 2002).