The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent federal body with a number of safety-related responsibilities. It is charged with investigating all civil aviation accidents, as well as significant accidents in railroad, marine and highway transportation situations. It also conducts safety studies, puts forth safety recommendations and assists the victims of transportation accidents and their families. During the partial government shutdown, the majority of NTSB employees have been furloughed. As a result, a number of investigations are currently on hold. The head of the NTSB has asked the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee to take the necessary steps to allow the group to resume its safety mission.
Of the 405 people who work for the NTSB, only 22 have continued work since the shutdown started on October 1. NTSB Chairperson Deborah Hersman said that the group had put approximately 1,500 investigations on hold, while taking no action on an additional 13 accidents that would normally be analyzed by NTSB personnel. Two hearings have also been postponed since continued funding for the group has not been established.
Among the accidents that are awaiting attention from investigators are a fatal bus collision, an oil pipeline spill and a plane crash that claimed the lives of four people. One of the postponed hearings concerned the fatal plane crash involving Asiana Airlines that occurred this July in San Francisco.
The investigations conducted by the NTSB could reveal problems that threaten future transportation accidents. Ms. Hersman pointed out the concern over not discovering these risks. She was quoted as saying, “If we don’t go, we don’t know.”
Source: Bloomberg, “Accident Investigations Stalled Since Shutdown: NTSB,” by Alan Levin, 11 October 2013