NHTSA has been the target of criticism from safety activists and some members of Congress for its handling of the GM recall. In particular, it has been questioned for having investigated early crashes and, according to GM's timelime, meeting with GM in 2007 on the results, but not forcing a recall at that time.
Earlier this month, safety activist and former NHTSA head Joan Claybrook charged that the safety agency "failed to carry out the law" when it didn't force GM to fix the problem back then.
Claybrook asked in letters to the Secretary of Transportation and to the Department of Transportation inspector general that they launch an an investigation of "the failure of" NHTSA "to require the recall" earlier.
While an audit falls short of a full investigation, it will scrutinize the actions of the safety agency, which also has its own internal probe underway.
NHTSA said in a statement Friday that it is "constantly looking for ways to improve its efforts to better identify and remedy safety defects, including a due diligence review already underway regarding the recent GM recall.
"However, in response to various questions raised by Members of Congress, the Department of Transportation asked our Inspector General's Office to conduct an audit to provide a single, comprehensive review of NHTSA's work in this case. In the meantime, we remain focused on ensuring GM addresses its recall as quickly as possible for consumers and continuing our own aggressive investigation regarding the timing of their recall."
GM recalled 1.62 million cars worldwide last month because faulty ignition switches can shut off power to the front airbags.! GM says it knows of 31 crashes and 13 deaths linked to the fault. The recalled cars are the 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalt, 2007 Pontiac G5, 2003-07 Saturn Ion, 2006-07 Chevrolet HHR, 2006-07 Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky.