WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the non-partisan watchdog group Campaign for Accountability (CfA) called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to improve its ethics enforcement program. Documents published by the Google Transparency Project reveal that top NHTSA officials were in frequent contact with Google executives while working on federal guidelines for self-driving cars.
Ron Medford, the former deputy director at NHTSA, left the agency in January 2013 to become Google’s Director of Safety for Self-Driving Cars. Prior to joining Google, Mr. Medford – along with a host of other top officials at the Transportation Department -- communicated regularly by email with high-level Google officials. The hiring of Mr. Medford was viewed as giving Google “a bureaucrat intimately familiar with the inner-workings of the transportation administration.” Eight months after Mr. Medford joined Google, he arranged a meeting at Google's headquarters with his successor at NHTSA, David Friedman.
CfA Executive Director Anne Weismann stated, “The close interaction between Google and federal transportation officials raises questions as to whether NHTSA has become too cozy with a company it is charged with regulating.”
In addition to Mr. Medford, at least three other senior NHTSA officials including Administrator David Strickland, Senior Associate Administrator Danny Smith, and Government Affairs Director Chan Lieu left the agency between 2012 and 2015 to aid Google’s work on self-driving cars. Mr. Strickland and Mr. Lieu joined Venable LLP, a law firm that counts Google as a client, and Mr. Smith apparently serves as a Google consultant.
CfA has asked NHTSA to determine whether Mr. Medford followed the relevant ethics rules and regulations when negotiating his employment and move to Google. CfA also has asked NHTSA to develop a more robust ethics enforcement process to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.