Hundreds of government employees file in and out of the U.S. agency for auto safety in Washington every working day, investigating potentially dangerous vehicles and managing a $900 million annual budget.
But an administrator is not among them — nobody has been nominated to the top job since President Donald Trump took office.
Also missing from the roughly 550 people on the payroll of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, are a permanent chief counsel, director for government affairs, chief financial officer, and enforcement chief.
While a deputy administrator was appointed last week, slow progress in bringing in senior politically appointed officials has nearly frozen key decision-making at the agency, according to five former NHTSA officials, consumer groups, lawmakers and some business leaders.
They said that without leadership in place NHTSA has either pushed back or failed to act on rules setting new standards for improving how buses fare in rollover crashes, a system to remind passengers in rear seats to wear seat belts, and new tire standards.
Eight months into Trump's presidency, senior positions in many government agencies across Washington remain vacant, including roles at the State Department, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and throughout the Transportation Department that oversees NHTSA.
Some of the vacancies are the result of Trump's efforts to slim down the federal bureaucracy. Others are simply waiting to be filled.
The White House blames Democrats for dragging out the confirmation process for its nominees, and says vetting picks has been more complicated than usual because many come from the business world rather than government.
While many companies applaud Trump's moves to roll back federal bureaucracy, some also complain that delays in bringing aboard political appointees is hindering government decisions that could impact business.
The frustration extends to some U.S. diplomats, private-sector lawyers and others who regularly deal with government agencies, according to interviews.