A Look at the 115th Congress and the New Administration

What do the changes mean for the auto repair industry?

The final U.S. House and Senate races have been called, and President Donald Trump’s new administration is moving forward with thousands of political appointments. There are some 2.8 million federal civilian employees, of which about 4,000 are deemed political jobs.

The nominations for those positions began with the Cabinet-level nominations, but the Trump transition team is busy establishing lists of potential nominees for appointments in Washington, as well as federal positions in states and around the world. Of these appointments, about 1,200 positions have to go through a U.S. Senate confirmation process.

For independent automotive repairers, key slots include those at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the Justice Department (DOJ), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

The nomination process likely will tie up the Senate through the first quarter of 2017. The following are Trump administration nominees as of this writing:

Elaine Chao: secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation. Chao served as deputy secretary for transportation during President George H.W. Bush’s administration and as secretary of labor in President George W. Bush’s administration. The Senate has confirmed Chao.

Scott Pruitt: administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt is the attorney general for Oklahoma.

Andy Puzder: secretary, U.S. Department of Labor. Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurants. Puzder has withdrawn.

Jeff Sessions: attorney general, U.S. Department of Justice. Sessions is a Republican senator from Alabama and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate has confirmed Sessions.

Linda McMahon: administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration. McMahon is the former CEO for World Wrestling Entertainment. The Senate has confirmed McMahon.

These are key nominations to date, and additional nominations will continue through early 2017. It’s important for repairers to note that major relevant policy decisions for our industry are typically made at other levels of these departments – specifically, at the DOJ, the Antitrust Division controls most of the issues related to automotive repair.
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At the EPA, the assistant administrator for Air and Radiation is a critical slot. At Labor, the administrator of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) dominates the areas of interest for repairers. For DOT, the administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will have the most important role in new vehicle technologies as they move into the marketplace.

The Trump administration has indicated several top issues to address in 2017, including immigration reform, transportation infrastructure, repeal of Obamacare and possibly tax reform. It’s also anticipated that Trump will repeal numerous federal regulations at the EPA, Department of Labor, etc.

It remains to be seen how NHTSA will proceed on telematics, cybersecurity or how the new administration will address the regulation of autonomous vehicles.

The 114th Congress closed its year with limited legislation impacting the automotive industry. So let’s take a look at the 115th Congress. The U.S. House of Representatives will experience some changes in 2017-2018, but they’ll have no significant impact on auto issues.

U.S. House of Representatives

For top committees of importance to repairers, the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will be Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. The House Judiciary Committee’s leadership will remain the same, with Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., as chair, and at House Financial Services, with Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, again serving as chairman.
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In the U.S. Senate, Republicans still hold the margin over Democrats. However, they fall short of the critical 60-vote margin to move legislation, under regular order, without Democrat support.

U.S. Senate

The Senate has finalized committee chairs, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., will again chair the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, will chair the Senate Banking Committee.

The first quarter of 2017 likely will consume Senate committees with the confirmation processes. In addition, the administration will be expected to move quickly on a Supreme Court nominee for Senate consideration. So which issues will rise to the top for repairers in the 115th Congress?

Cybersecurity issues will remain at the forefront in the next two-year cycle. We’ll also see autonomous vehicle policy debated at the state and federal levels. Despite guidance issued by NHTSA this past year, some states will entertain legislation that delves into this policy area. ASA has also seen several state telematics bills in previous legislative cycles, and these are not likely to go away. With the airbag and other recall volume, federal vehicle safety legislation may also be considered.

Periodic motor vehicle inspection programs will see legislation to dilute or eliminate programs in 2017. In Pennsylvania, ASA anticipates the reintroduction of legislation that requires inspection stations to provide recall information to vehicle owners.

Specifically for collision repairers, some state legislatures will debate insurer mandates such as parts processing. Crash-parts legislation will run the policy spectrum as in previous cycles, as far as restrictions on the types of parts to be used and efforts at patent reform.

In the waning days of 2016, the Obama administration issued a proposed regulation for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology. According to DOT, the proposed regulation would advance the deployment of connected vehicle technologies throughout the U.S. light vehicle fleet. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking enables V2V communication technology on all new light-duty vehicles, providing a multitude of new crash-avoidance applications that, once fully deployed, could prevent hundreds of thousands of crashes every year by helping vehicles “talk” to each other.

“We are carrying the ball as far as we can to realize the potential of transportation technology to save lives,” stated U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at the end of his DOT tenure. “This long-promised V2V rule is the next step in that progression. Once deployed, V2V will provide 360-degree situational awareness on the road and will help us enhance vehicle safety.”

Important for the future of automotive technology are this V2V proposed regulation, cybersecurity guidance and federal policy for the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles.

This year will be a busy one for the automotive industry. Much of the workload in the policy arena will be driven by new technologies moving into the marketplace. ASA has stepped up with three consecutive years of telematics and technology forums, webinars and other initiatives designed to keep members informed. To keep abreast of the latest public policy issues relative to independent automotive repairers, please go to TakingTheHill.com.