David Strickland claims the NHTSA's investigation into the Toyota acceleration problem did not warrant demanding a recall.

Rebuffing criticism of slow action and underfunded efforts, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said his agency acted properly in investigating complaints about sudden-acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles and has enough money and staff to oversee the auto industry.

At a House subcommittee hearing Thursday, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland also denied that agency employees were beholden to the automakers they regulate.

"This agency opened eight separate investigations over the time period when there were complaints about sudden acceleration. A lap dog doesn't open eight investigations," Strickland told the panel.

Many of those investigations since 2002 were closed without any recalls by Toyota because there wasn't enough information to warrant one, but the agency continued to monitor the issue as it has with other safety problems, he said.

"If we cannot find the defect, we cannot under the statute go forward and force a mandatory recall, but that doesn't mean that we think the vehicle is safe, per se. We will keep looking," said Strickland, who became the agency's head in January after working as a Senate aide on auto safety issues.

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