Chapter 18

Making Regulators More Tech-Elite

During the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu blogged, “My job has been to oversee the federal science team—a group of top scientists from the Department of Energy's national labs, the federal government, and academia, along with outside industry experts. . . .”1

Around the same time, as the U.S. Department of Transportation was investigating multiple occurrences of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles, it announced it had brought in NASA engineers to help. The NASA charter was to determine “if there are design and implementation vulnerabilities in the Toyota Electronic Throttle Control System Intelligent (ETCS-i) that could cause UAs (unintended accelerations) and whether those vulnerabilities, if substantiated, could realistically occur in consumers’ use of these vehicles.”

The NASA team reported after its analysis:

Because proof that the ETCS-i caused the reported UAs was not found does not mean it could not occur. However, the testing and analysis described in this report did not find that TMC ETCS-i electronics are a likely cause of large throttle openings as described in the VOQs (Vehicle Owners’ Questionnaire).2

In an interview, Secretary Chu explained the reason for the large brain trust during the BP spill:

After the [Space Shuttle] Challenger accident, the U.S. government formed a panel of very, very bright scientists and engineers to come together and figure out what happened and ...

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