Don’t Quote NHTSA on That…What’s happening at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)? Depending upon whom you ask you might get no answer at all—or at least no answer for use on the record. NHTSA seems to have pulled the proverbial shade on any kind of transparent, open door communication policy between the press and its staff, leaving crucially important safety information unavailable for on-the-record publication and consumers in the dark about agency dealings.
Perhaps an example is in order. Given a situation like the I-35 bridge collapse catastrophe, if a reporter seeks on-the-record information, two options apparently exist: contact the office of NHTSA administrator Nicole Nason (trained in law, not engineering), or pursue the questionably ambiguous process of obtaining special permission to speak on the record with a real expert, after what can only presumably be a nip/tuck job by higher-ups of all the expert’s statements. Forget contacting the now inappropriately titled communication staff—the policy applies to them, too. The other “choice” involves use of information without official attribution; a process frowned upon by responsible publications around the country.