WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Transportation has launched an internal review of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration following criticism of the agency and its handling of the recalls of millions of cars with potentially defective airbags made by supplier Takata Corp.
"NHTSA has been aggressive in responding to the situation related to defective airbags," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest in a media briefing on Monday. "And they have sought to move forward aggressively to protect the American people once they had data to indicate that action was needed.
"There have been some issues that have cropped up around the announcement of the safety advisory last week, and the Department of Transportation review that has commenced is the right step to make sure that everyone is focused on learning from this situation and strengthening the response."
NHTSA last week issued an urgent warning to consumers about the potential danger of the defect and advised them to get the cars fixed as quickly as possible. The recall involves 7.8 million airbags by 10 automakers.
Earnest would not answer whether the White House asked for the DOT review.
The defective Takata airbags may explode metal pieces at vehicle occupants, leading to severe injuries. The potentially defective airbags have been linked to as many as four deaths.
The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to meet with automakers affected by the airbag recalls this week.
U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican and committee chairman, said: "Mistakes have been made by both companies and regulators."
"As the agency holds automakers accountable, it needs to hold itself to the same — if not a higher — standard as those it regulates," he said in a statement. "NHTSA must be willing to learn from the failures of the past so we can improve safety. This can begin with the naming of a new NHTSA chief — a critically important safety post that remains vacant to this day."
David Friedman is the acting chief of NHTSA.
A nominee for the post is expected to be named soon.
Edmunds says: Consumers may get some answers about how and why NHTSA mishandled the Takata recalls as the agency comes under greater scrutiny.