Three former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) leaders and three other experts have joined the independent panel investigating the defective Takata Corp. driver’s side air bags. As we have reported, this resulted in mass recalls by top automakers in the past year. The panel’s head, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Samuel Skinner, made the announcement on Jan. 20. Skinner, who also previously served as White House Chief of Staff, said in a statement that the now-seven-member team includes “notable members of the transportation safety, manufacturing, quality assurance and engineering communities” and that the panel will soon begin reviewing and assessing Takata’s current policies and procedures to determine what exactly went wrong in the manufacturing of the defective inflator piece that has the potential to explode and pummel passengers with shrapnel — and to stop the error from happening again. He added:
I look forward to leading this important effort to ensure that Takata is responsive whenever questions are raised about the quality or safety of its air bags. Each member of our panel is a highly respected and accomplished professional in areas directly relevant to our review. Together, their collective expertise and perspective will be invaluable.
Takata announced in early December the formation of the independent quality assurance panel to audit the company’s manufacturing process, following an NHTSA order requiring the air bag maker to expand nationwide its recall of the defective inflator parts. In testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Dec. 3, Takata’s vice president, Hiroshi Shimizu, said the panel will uncover ways that the air bag maker can improve its manufacturing process to ensure the safety of its air bags’ inflators.
Joining Skinner in the panel is Marion C. Blakely, who served as the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from 2002 to 2007 and chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) from 2001 to 2002. Ms. Blakely also previously served as administrator of the NHTSA, and she is currently the president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, an aerospace and defense trade group. Coming over from the health care industry is John C. Landgraf, who brings to the panel years of experience as an executive vice president at Abbott Laboratories. During his tenure at Abbott, he has worked extensively in the pharmaceutical company’s manufacturing and quality assurance departments, according to the statement.
Nelda J. Connors, the previous president of Tyco International Ltd.’s electrical and metal products division, has also been appointed to the panel. She previously served in leadership positions at other private companies within the automotive industry, including Eaton Corp., and is a director for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the statement said. The Dean of Northwestern University’s engineering and applied sciences school, Dr. Julio M. Ottino, also joins the panel, the statement revealed. He works extensively at the university’s transportation center and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.
The final two members of the team include Dr. Jeffrey W. Runge, who served as administrator of the NHTSA from 2001 to 2005 and assistant secretary for health affairs and chief medical officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2008; and John W. Snow, who served as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under President George W. Bush. Before entering the government sector, Snow worked in the railroad industry as CEO of CSX Corp., the statement said. The make-up of this panel is quite impressive. Hopefully, they will be able to maintain their independence. If so, their work product should result in a report that is based on accurate information and is helpful to working through a most difficult safety problem affecting the public.
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