|Report Criticizes NTSB's Work
December 9, 1999
By DEB RIECHMANN
Associated Press Writer
(AP) In air disasters such as the TWA 800 and
EgyptAir 990 crashes, the government should do more to seek out
experts with no economic stake in the investigation, says a report
commissioned by the federal air safety agency. The report also
contends the agency the National Transportation Safety Board
understaffed and overburdened.
released Thursday by Rand, a policy think tank based
in Santa Monica, Calif., highlights what it says are deficiencies
at the NTSB, which investigates aviation accidents. NTSB paid
$400,000 to conduct the analysis, cited as the most comprehensive
look at the agency's operation in its 30-year history.
contends the agency's investigative techniques have
not kept pace with the complex designs and intricate workings
modern aircraft. And it says the 400-member staff is stretched
thin, is inadequately equipped and needs more training.
is running to stay in place,'' the report said.
says the agency's practice of letting airlines, aircraft
or component makers involved in accidents assist with
investigations could compromise its independence. It urged the
agency, especially in high-profile aviation disasters, to seek
additional technical expertise from government agencies,
universities or others without an economic stake in the case.
likely to be named to assist in the NTSB
investigation ... are also the most likely to be named defendants
in the civil litigation that inevitably follows a major accident,''
the report said. ``The investigation process, inherently important
to the safety of the flying public, has become equally, albeit
unintentionally, important to the ultimate establishment of legal
fault and blame.''
James Hall said it was a constant challenge to
make sure that safety experts, not lawyers, were running
investigations. ``Liability issues should not drive the public
safety agenda,'' he said at a news conference where the report
said he agrees that his agency is overburdened, but
said he has been unsuccessful in getting additional staffing
has been done every year I've been chairman and every
year OMB (Office of Management and Budget) has zeroed me out,''
said Hall, who has been chairman since June 1994. ``I have opposed
that because I think OMB is zeroing out the public safety of
an OMB spokeswoman, said NTSB's funding has risen
by more than 50 percent since fiscal year 1995. She said the
currently was reviewing budget requests for fiscal 2001 _ to
completed in February _ and would be looking at the safety board's
staffing and funding needs.
Director Peter Goelz said the funding has risen in
recent years thanks to Congress, which provided more money than
requested. He added that NTSB requested 68 new positions for
2001, but OMB has decided to ask Congress to fund only 14, and
of them are related to the board's aviation work.
said the NTSB employs 400 people, including 131
responsible for investigating aviation accidents. In 1998, the
agency investigated more than 2,000 large and small aircraft
accidents and incidents _ an average of 15 per investigator.
of the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 off the
coast of Long Island, N.Y., is still not complete, the report
The investigation of the 1994 crash of USAir Flight 427 outside
Pittsburgh took more than four years to complete. On its list
ongoing investigations is the Oct. 31 crash of EgyptAir Flight
south of Nantucket Island, Mass., that killed all 217 on board.