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NHTSA Officials To Remain on Job - YES!

DETROIT, Jan 18, 2005; Reuters reported that the top U.S. auto safety official, a man often seen as a thorn in the side of Detroit's Big Three automakers, said on Tuesday that he expects to keep the post under the Bush administration's second term.

"As far as I know I'm staying, and I'm happy to do that," Jeffrey Runge, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told reporters.

He said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Minetta had recently asked him to remain on the job and that he "couldn't be happier" to do so.

As a member of what he described as President Bush's "commissioned officer corps," Runge added that he may ultimately wind up being appointed elsewhere, however.

"Wherever they deploy us is where we'll go," he said.

Runge, a former emergency room doctor, has stirred controversy among some industry insiders in Detroit with public comments about the risk and danger of rollover accidents and other safety issues involving big sport utility vehicles, which generate a huge chunk of the Big Three's profits.

He has also been seen as something of an ally of the auto industry, however, arguing as he did last year against Senate legislation that would have set strict deadlines to require automakers to strengthen car roofs and implement other safety measures.

"I want the industry to thrive but I also want safe vehicles on the road," Runge said in his remarks late on Tuesday. He spoke after addressing an automotive conference in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn.

"I think they respect him," David Cole, head of the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based, Center for Automotive Research, told Reuters, when asked about how Runge was viewed in the executive suites at General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler side of DaimlerChrysler.

"I think the relationship is quite good," he added.