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Bill gives government, not public, early information on auto defects

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         Oct 27, 2000    

Bill gives government, not public, early information on auto defects

  • A watchdog group said congressional efforts to make the automotive industry more accountable for safety defects only gives government agencies more oversight, and will not allow the public to evaluate the information.

A bill strengthening the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s ability to address life-threatening motor vehicle safety defects — such as the defective Bridgestone/Firestone tires used on Ford Motor Company’s Explorer — does not increase the amount of information the public can receive on the alleged defects.

Under the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation

Act the government can obtain more information about potential defects and obtain it earlier, but it can keep that information confidential unless it determines disclosure will help the government enforce the act.

Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C., asked President Clinton to veto the measure, which has passed both the House and the Senate, because it does not adequately punish wrongdoers and its requirements for confidentiality actually subvert existing law.

In a news release, Public Citizen outlined four new limits on public disclosures:

First, the government cannot make information it receives on safety defects public unless it reaches a formal decision to do so. (With some exception, the same data is automatically public now, Public Citizen said.)

Secondly, the government must tell manufacturers in great detail how it will use the information at the time it requests it.

Third, companies may attempt to destroy or hide records showing defects because the act does not allow the government to seek information which is not in the “possession” of manufacturers.

Finally, the act prohibits the government from creating reporting requirements for the companies that are too costly.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had introduced a stronger measure which he had hoped would pass. (S. 3059). However, he said in a news release that he supports the measure adopted by both houses and that it does not encourage more secrecy. It requires the Secretary of Transportation to disclose the information when disclosure will assist in carrying out the provisions of the act. That analysis is required under current law, he said.

(H.R. 5164) RD

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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