The national agency that regulates vehicle safety is a step closer to getting a permanent leader, something it has been lacking since January.
Mark Rosekind, the Obama administration's choice to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, spoke Wednesday before a Senate committee, saying that the agency would be more aggressive on behalf of consumers under his leadership.
The NHTSA has been under fire for its failure to catch problems at General Motors that resulted in at least 36 traffic fatalities as well as other safety issues in a record year of recalls. Automakers have recalled more than 50 million vehicles in the U.S. this year.
"I've been concerned with the slowness across all of the agency's recalls," Rosekind told the the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, as quoted by the Detroit Free Press.
David Friedman, NHTSA deputy administrator, has been standing in as the agency's chief for the last 11 months. The Senate committee additionally heard Carlos Monje Jr., who is the administration's pick for assistant secretary for transportation policy, as well as Dr. Tho Bella Dinh-Zarr, who has been nominated to become a member of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Senators at the hearing seemed to want a far more present NHTSA in the future.
"If you are not feared and respected then you can't do a good job of policing highway safety in this country and today NHTSA is not feared," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
Rosekind told the committee that he would focus on the process where defective cars are reported and then recalled. He also said the maximum $35 million federal fine that can be levied on a company that fails to report major safety flaws should increase.
"There's no question it needs to go up," said Rosekind, who has served on the National Transportation Safety Board since 2010.
His remarks come at a time when the NHTSA is debating its next move after Japanese supplier Takata defied a federal order to extend an air bag recall to all of the U.S. instead of just high-humidity areas. The agency is now under pressure to show that it has the power to enforce a national recall.