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ICYMI: Schakowsky, Pallone, Butterfield and Capps Call on GSA to Stop Selling Vehicles Under Recall

Oct 20, 2016
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC - Today, Representatives Jan Schakowsky, Ranking Member on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade (IL-09); Frank Pallone, Jr., Ranking Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee (NJ-06); G. K. Butterfield (NC-01); and Lois Capps (CA-24) wrote Administrator Denise Turner Roth at the General Services Administration (GSA) calling on the agency to reduce the number of vehicles in the federal fleet under open recalls and end the practice of selling vehicles before recalls have been fixed.

As the federal agency in charge of acquisition and disposal of government property, the GSA leases vehicles to other federal agencies. Every year, the GSA auctions off thousands of vehicles no longer in use by the federal government to private buyers. Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that no vehicle should be sold with an open recall, current GSA procedures do not require fixing safety issues, notifying buyers of open recalls, or even checking for potential recalls prior to auction. As a result, consumers can unknowingly buy defective vehicles from the federal government.

 “The GSA is responsible for the federal government’s auto fleet, and Americans expect that their government will look out for their safety,” wrote Reps. Schakowsky, Pallone, Butterfield and Capps. “No federal agency should use or sell cars that are unsafe. The GSA should lead by example by fixing all actionable recalls.”

Full text of the letter:

Dear Administrator Roth:

 

            We write to express our profound disappointment with the current practices surrounding vehicle safety recalls at the General Services Administration (GSA). The GSA buys, leases out, and auctions off thousands of vehicles every year. As an arm of the federal government, your agency has the responsibility to look out for the well-being of Americans. Leasing and auctioning vehicles with open safety recalls is inconsistent with that responsibility. We urge you to take immediate action to reduce the number of vehicles in the federal fleet with open recalls and to only auction vehicles once safety issues have been resolved.

 

We were very troubled by a recent investigation on GSA vehicles leased and auctioned with open recalls. The investigation found that more than 20 percent of GSA vehicles in an August auction had open safety recalls. It also reported that government vehicles “had been driven long after their recalls were issued.”[1]

 

Operating vehicles with safety recalls puts the driver, passengers, and others on the road at potential risk. GSA’s practices regarding recalls are especially jarring because they contradict the position of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), our federal watchdog for vehicle safety. NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind has repeatedly noted that the sale of unrepaired, recalled used cars is a critical safety concern and that new and used cars alike should not be sold with unrepaired recalled defects.[2] The GSA is responsible for the federal government’s auto fleet, and Americans expect that their government will look out for their safety.

 

We recognize that the GSA has taken steps in recent years to address recalls in vehicles leased out to federal agencies. Beginning in 2014, your agency has used automated systems to check its vehicles for open recalls and push that information out to federal agencies leasing vehicles from the GSA. This system is not perfect. It does not cover all vehicles owned by the federal government. However, it is a basis for further improvements. No one using a government-owned vehicle should have to worry that the vehicle is unsafe due to a known defect. I urge the GSA to make additional progress toward that goal.

 

While the safety of vehicles leased out by GSA has improved, GSA’s auctions of used vehicles remain extremely problematic. Currently, GSA procedures do not require fixing safety defects prior to auction, notifying buyers if there are open recalls, or even checking for potential recalls. This may be technically legal, but it is not right.

 

What makes the GSA’s sale of unsafe vehicles even more troubling is that the GSA already has a system to check its vehicles for recalls. Under current procedures, the GSA could find out through its automated recall alert system that a vehicle it has leased to another federal agency has an open safety recall. That agency could then return the vehicle back to GSA, and the GSA could sell that vehicle to a private buyer through auction knowing that a recall was in effect. The GSA would not even notify the buyer of the recall. It would provide only a general disclaimer that a vehicle may be subject to recall, putting all the responsibility on the buyer to check for a recall and then address it.

 

Recall response rates are already too low, and they are even worse for cars with a second owner. We know how to fix this. One of the best ways to increase recall effectiveness is to prohibit the sale of a used vehicle until all known defects have been repaired. Federal statute already restricts selling a new car or renting a car with an open recall. The GSA should be a leader in auto safety by stopping auction of used cars with open recalls unless the vehicle is being sold as junk or salvage.

 

Checking for and addressing recalls would be a very feasible practice for GSA to implement. Your agency already keeps a record of the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) for vehicles in its fleet. Those VINs can be easily cross-referenced with existing databases to check for recalls, and NHTSA provides instructions in recall notices for how recalls should be addressed. We urge the GSA to take these steps – not only for vehicles it has leased to other agencies but also for vehicles sold by other agencies to GSA for disposal.

 

We understand that stopping the auction of vehicles with recalls exceeds current statutory requirements. Today, it is legal to sell a used car with an open recall. We are fighting to change that. In the meantime, our federal government should hold itself to a higher standard. No federal agency should use or sell cars that are unsafe. The GSA should lead by example by fixing all actionable recalls. We hope that this then becomes standard practice for all federal agencies with vehicle fleets.

 

Please respond promptly with the steps your agency plans to take to improve the safety of the federal fleet and end the auction of used vehicles with open recalls. We appreciate your attention to our concerns.

 

[1] Joce Sterman and Alex Brauer, The government is selling the public cars without repairing safety recall defects, Circa (October 5, 2016) (online at https://circa.com/politics/accountability/feds-auction-off-hundreds-of-cars-with-unrepaired-recalls-possibly-putting-buyers-at-risk).

[2] House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Hearing on an Update on the Takata Airbag Ruptures and Recalls, 114th Cong. (June 2, 2015); House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Hearing on Examining Ways to Improve Vehicle and Roadway Safety, 114th Cong. (Oct. 21, 2015); House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Hearing on Oversight of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 114th Cong. (Apr. 14, 2016).