NHTSA Chief Counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh has left the agency

Paul Hemmersbaugh, chief counsel for the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has left the agency. NHTSA confirmed Hemmersbaugh’s departure after TechCrunch learned of the top lawyer taking leave of the federal organization. Hemmersbaugh is another high-ranking departure at the agency ahead of Trump’s inauguration, after NHTSA chief Mark Rosekind indicated he’d be leaving the organization in November.

NHTSA looks to still retain two of its most senior staff through the transition, however, with acting Deputy Administrator Terry Shelton retaining her civil servant role and Executive Director Jack Danielson looking set to keep his position, which was created in a 2015 restructure of the organization.

Rosekind sought to reassure observers that NHTSA would continue its work in taking a proactive approach on safety following Trump’s inauguration, highlighting the retention of top staff as a reason why industry stakeholders can expect a through-line across the next presidency. Hemmersbaugh has been a key part of Rosekind’s proactive approach, which included measures like setting out recommended guidelines for companies working on autonomous vehicles, and on mobile device makers whose products could be used by drivers in cars.

Hemmersbaugh also penned NHTSA’s February letter to Google, which outlined how the agency would treat Google’s (now Waymo’s) self-driving system as the driver for legal purposes, which is a key step in helping self-driving cars actually come to public roads for general use.

Trump has selected Elaine Chao for Department of Transportation secretary, a choice seen by some as beneficial for companies pursuing self-driving vehicle technology. Her confirmation hearing takes place this Wednesday.