Report Criticizes NTSB's Work

December 9, 1999 

 Associated Press Writer

           WASHINGTON (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  is
 understaffed and overburdened.

           The report, 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 Rand
 $400,000 to conduct the analysis, cited as the most comprehensive
 look at the agency's operation in its 30-year history.

           The report contends the agency's investigative techniques have
 not kept pace with the complex designs and intricate workings of
 modern aircraft. And it says the 400-member staff is stretched too
 thin, is inadequately equipped and needs more training.

           ``The NTSB is running to stay in place,'' the report said.

           It also 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.

           ``The parties 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.''

           NTSB Chairman 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 was

           Hall also said he agrees that his agency is overburdened, but
 said he has been unsuccessful in getting additional staffing and

           ``That 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 the
 American people.''

           Linda Ricci, an OMB spokeswoman, said NTSB's funding has risen
 by more than 50 percent since fiscal year 1995. She said the office
 currently was reviewing budget requests for fiscal 2001 _ to be
 completed in February _ and would be looking at the safety board's
 staffing and funding needs.

           NTSB Managing Director Peter Goelz said the funding has risen in
 recent years thanks to Congress, which provided more money than OMB
 requested. He added that NTSB requested 68 new positions for fiscal
 2001, but OMB has decided to ask Congress to fund only 14, and none
 of them are related to the board's aviation work.

           The report 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.

           The investigation of the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 off the
 coast of Long Island, N.Y., is still not complete, the report said.
 The investigation of the 1994 crash of USAir Flight 427 outside
 Pittsburgh took more than four years to complete. On its list of
 ongoing investigations is the Oct. 31 crash of EgyptAir Flight 990,
 south of Nantucket Island, Mass., that killed all 217 on board.