Last night, after browsing the recently agreed-to government funding measure, I ended up over at USASpending.gov, a website that compiles the various ways in which the government spends (or wastes) our tax dollars.

Since I was already on the site I decided to see how NHTSA allocated their resources in terms of contract spending for Fiscal Year 2014.


NHTSA Contracting 2


As you can see a good portion the agency’s contracted funds went to Charles Tombras Advertising Inc. for advertising services. NHTSA also awarded $3.5M  to The Advertising Council to support their campaign on distracted driving.

Below is an annual graph of awards to Charles Tombras Advertising by the Department of Transportation (NHTSA).


It appears that even in an era of almost-free publishing (like this blog) the government finds it necessary to spend $40M+ dollars a year on advertising to remind people to buckle their seat belt and not to drive drunk. But I guess things like billboard and holiday-themed safety posters add up over time.

The passages below (pulled from the contracting documents) while small in terms of dollar amounts, give you a little insight into the normal day-to-day of the United States Government.

  • Obtain exhibit space for the 43rd annual Mid-America trucking show. Action: issue purchase order to acquire booth space for NHTSA exhibit at the 43rd annual Mid-America trucking show description: issue a purchase order to obtain an exhibit booth (20′ x 20′) to present NHTSA information to commercial truck drivers on ways to stay safer on the roadways and to highlight Safercar.gov.  Purchase order needs to be awarded before January 3, 2014.  Estimated budget:  $4,800.00 FY 14 Period of performance:  March 27 – 29, 2014.


  • Vehicle theft prevention video action:  modification to increase the level of effort; increase the task order ceiling, and to fully fund the task order.  Description:  this procurement seeks to modify this task order by:  1) increasing the level of effort by increasing the number revisions that may be needed to the rough cut of the video after an additional round of NHTSA review and comments.  A revised milestones and deliverables schedule is attached.  2) Increasing the task order ceiling:  from: $12,000.00 by $5,000.00 to $17,000.00.


  • Rich Golaszewski, EVP, GRA, Inc.  115 West Avenue, Suite 201, Jenkintown, PA 19046 215-884-7500. The purpose of this sole-source contract is for updating the detailed analyses of consumer’s purchasing decisions and choices among new light duty vehicle models that was designed to help NHTSA understand a range of transportation policy issues, including but not limited to measuring the costs and benefits of multiple forms of light duty vehicle regulation, including both fuel economy and safety regulation. As part of this study, the original contractor developed a new econometric model of potential buyer’s decisions about whether to purchase new vehicles and actual buyer’s choices among competing vehicle models.  Preliminary cost estimates for the performance of the initial study effort is $150,000.  This funding level represents the aggregate total for the entire period of performance.  The period of performance is eleven (11) months from the award date.  The previous contract number was dtnh22-10-c-00171. The purpose of this modification is to extend the period of performance for this contract so that choice model derived parameters produce consistent results from the CAFE model for near-term forecasting and to adapt the vehicle choice model to existing models for longer-term forecasting.  This modification increases the funding for the contract by $80,000 and extends the contract termination date to June 30, 2014.  The total obligated amount for this contract is increased to $230,000.

Why am I sharing this?

NHTSA has testified before Congress stating that the agency could use additional funds to ensure automakers are building vehicles that are free from defects. But asking a federal agency if they could use more money is like asking a squirrel in the middle of winter if he could use more nuts. The answer is always going to be a resounding yes.

But it isn’t just money that Congress and NHTSA are looking for, but also a bigger hammer – in the form of larger fines. Bigger hammers are great deterrents against bad actors, but in many of the recent recall failures bad actors were not the root cause, but rather bad systems. And no hammer, no matter how big and how mighty can fix a broken system.


Maybe going forward NHTSA might consider spending a bit of their advertising war chest on reminding automakers to build safer vehicles or that agency is watching them.