An organization devoted to public oversight has raised concerns regarding a key official involved in the Biden administration’s initiatives to push the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) in the United States. T
he group, known as Protect the Public’s Trust, has requested the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Inspector General, Eric Soskin, to conduct an investigation into this appointment. There are concerns that the appointment may have violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA), as specified in their official complaint sent earlier this week.
The individual in question is Ann Carlson, who was selected by President Biden to serve as the acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – an important role at the heart of several major national traffic initiatives.
According to the FVRA, the President cannot assign an acting officer to a role unless the individual has previously worked as the chief assistant in the same department for at least 90 days, or if the official has already been nominated by the President for Senate approval within the previous 365 days.
Carlson’s appointment is allegedly in violation of these key aspects of the FVRA. Consequently, Protect the Public’s Trust argues that Carlson’s appointment should be deemed unlawful, and any actions she has implemented during her tenure should be null and void as per legal protocols.
Before taking up her current position, Carlson held the post of chief legal counsel within the same agency. She was assigned as the interim head of the NHTSA in September 2022 following the resignation of the previous administrator. In February 2023, President Biden proposed she assume the role permanently through an official nomination.
Despite President Biden’s support, her nomination faced significant resistance, mostly from Senate Republicans. The opposition cited concerns about her past comments supporting the use of high energy prices to spur the transition towards environmentally-friendly technologies. Subsequent criticisms of her endorsing rigid climate policies eventually nudged the Biden administration to withdraw her nomination in May.
After the withdrawal of her nomination, Carlson retained her role on an interim basis and oversaw significant proposed updates to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards published in July. The changes, according to critics like Dan Kish of the Institute for Energy Research, would likely lead to increased automobile prices and could be perceived as a subtle push towards a broader EV mandate.
Michael Chamberlain, the director of Protect the Public’s Trust, voiced his concerns in a discussion with the DCNF. He criticized the current trend of appointing officials rejected during the Senate nomination process due to issues related to inexperience, activism, or potential conflicts of interest. He also commented on this administrative decision, indicating that it seems to prioritize policy over proper checks and balances.
It’s important to note that the NHTSA’s primary goal is ‘to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes, through education, research, safety standards, and enforcement,’ as stated on their official website. Pertinently, before working with the NHTSA, Carlson did not have any distinct career experience directly related to the automobile industry or traffic safety.
The organization Protect the Public’s Trust highlighted this gap in Carlson’s professional history as they outlined their concerns about her appointment. Carlson isn’t alone in this, as several officials have been squeezed into key bureaucratic roles within the White House administration, even after failing to obtain Senate approval.
There are strict procedures, built on principles set out in the Constitution, to appoint Presidential nominees. The complaint issued by Protect the Public’s Trust cautions against the bypassing of these established procedures to advance preferred policies.
The complaint states that ‘The Office of Inspector General should immediately investigate these violations of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act and prevent Ms. Carlson from engaging in any further ultra vires activities.’ The request is for an official investigation to probe these alleged violations and put a halt to any unofficial actions.
The Department of Transport (DOT), the NHTSA, and the White House have been formally informed of this issue. However, no public response to these claims has yet been made by any of the parties involved.
This episode underscores the complexities of federal appointments and the potential implications they carry. A review of the situation may be necessary to ensure accountability, transparency, and that the correct protocols are indeed being followed when making key governmental appointments.