Lawmakers, unions: Bill aims to protect feds from dangerous vehicles

A recent General Services Administration probe, as reported by the agency and various news outlets, reveals chances are better than one in ten that your federal work vehicle has at least one outstanding recall item—in many cases, involving something safety-related—that has never been rectified.

Does your federal job involve using a government vehicle? If so, to ensure you’re safe behind the wheel, you might need to do more than just fasten your seat belt.

A recent General Services Administration probe, as reported by the agency and various news outlets, reveals chances are better than one in ten that your federal work vehicle has at least one outstanding recall item—in many cases, involving something safety-related—that has never been rectified. Hence, you and a good number of your federal colleagues, oblivious to the potential danger, might be tooling around on duty in hazardous wheels.

Thus, for now you might want to take the initiative to check up on whether that government vehicle has been recalled—by contacting the manufacturer, a dealer or checking online—and, if it has been recalled, following up to verify whether your agency acted to follow up on any such recall.

Longer term, take heart. Congress now has a bill that, if passed, will codify that federal agencies must fix all recall items that apply to their fleets, prior to selling or leasing any automobile to any other agency—or to the public.

The bill is known as the Shielding All Federal Employees and Consumers from Actionable Recall Situations Act, or simply “SAFE CARS Act.”

“The presence of recalled cars on the road is dangerous to drivers and to everyone around them which makes it inexcusable that the federal government is facilitating these risks by continuing to sell and lease such vehicles,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), a co-sponsor of the bill, warned in a statement.

“Historic spikes in automobile fatalities and injuries in 2020—despite dramatic decreases in the number of cars on the roads—leave no doubt that we must strengthen our automobile safety laws,” Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), another partner behind the bill, said. “This bill would prohibit the GSA from continuing to fail to ensure all vehicles are in safe operating condition prior to sale.”

Reps. Krishnamoorthi and Schakowsky were joined by Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) in proposing this bipartisan legislation.

For several years, some of the same lead legislators have tangled over this same issue with those who manage federal vehicle fleets. “The GSA is responsible for the federal government’s auto fleet, and Americans expect that their government will look out for their safety,” Rep. Schakowsky wrote back in 2016 in a statement and a letter pushing to persuade the agency to protect against unaddressed recalls. “No federal agency should use or sell cars that are unsafe. The GSA should lead by example by fixing all actionable recalls.”

Now, with growing worry and legislation pending, along with support from both sides of the aisle, stakeholders hope to get resolution—and improved on-the-job safety—for both feds and the public.

Safety org, union support

The proposal has garnered significant support from union leadership and road safety advocates.

“These are really dangerous things that can injure and kill people and do all the time,” Jason Levine, the executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, said. “If you’re allowing federal employees to drive around in recalled vehicles, you’re not just putting the driver in danger, you’re putting everyone on the road who shares the road with those cars in danger.”

The group, registering its support for the legislation, noted that “[vehicles] are only placed under a federal recall if they have a dangerous defect or violate a federal standard.” Hence, having an estimated tens of thousands of such vehicles out and about on the roads and highways without the needed fixes made, represents a serious—and unnecessary—hazard.

The Center for Auto Safety has played a prominent role in numerous life-saving exposes, as well as auto safety actions taken by the federal government—including efforts to roll back notorious dangers involving defects in the Ford Pinto and certain Firestone tires decades ago. These moves saved thousands of lives.

Union chiefs are also expressing strong support for the bill.

“There is no reason for a federal employee to be in a government-owned vehicle that has outstanding manufacturer recalls,” NTEU President Tony Reardon said in a statement. “We agree that the General Services Administration should ensure the maintenance of its vehicles is as up to date as possible.”

"Federal employees have every right to expect that the vehicle their agency gives them to do their job is safe and reliable,” Reardon said.  

The union stated that the federal government owns in excess of 200,000 cars and trucks—massive fleets that are allocated and leased among the various agencies, and typically later re-sold to the public.

The NTEU statement quoted a source noting that “in some cases, cars and trucks leased to federal agencies still had recalls that were intended to fix serious safety risks.”

Recently, Rep. Krishnamoori summed up the concerns of lawmakers, safety experts, union leaders and individual feds in an opinion piece published on The Hill news website.

“’Buyer beware’ isn’t a phrase that should relate to government agencies, but in this case, the GSA is knowingly and recklessly endangering the public,” he wrote. “An unrepaired vehicle under recall is potentially extremely dangerous to both its driver and those around it, yet the GSA has continued to lease and sell these vehicles with little regard for public safety.”

For more detail on the problem and the proposed remedy, see the statement issued by Rep. Krishnamoorthi’s office.

 

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