Monday, December 11, 2017

NTSB reauthorization bill aims to increase communication, transparency

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NTSB Rail Investigator Timothy DePaepe tests signals near an area of a train accident near Goodwell, OK, in 2012. NTSB Rail Investigator Timothy DePaepe tests signals near an area of a train accident near Goodwell, OK, in 2012. NTSB

A bill reauthorizing the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was introduced last week in the Senate and aims to enhance the board's safety investigations through added transparency.

U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who serve respectively as the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and three other committee members introduced S. 2202, the National Transportation Safety Board Reauthorization Act on Dec. 6. The legislation reauthorizes the NTSB at an average level of $113.4 million through fiscal year 2023 and, according to the senators, offers several key reforms to modernize and improve transparency in the safety agency's investigations, recommendations and board member discussions.

"After tragic accidents, we ask NTSB to get facts and tell us what went wrong," said Sen. Thune. "This legislation expands the agency's ability to explain causes and improves the NTSB's recommendation process so that we can more effectively address our most pressing safety challenges."

The legislation would add still images to items the NTSB may disclose during the course of an investigation in order to increase transparency to the public about the circumstances of accidents. The senators also say the bill improves information sharing by closing loopholes that allowed for the release of confidential information by other federal agencies obtained during the course of NTSB investigations.

The bill would also require the NTSB to publish a report on the process used to prioritize and select safety recommendations included in the agency's "Most Wanted List." The senators say this requires the NTSB to better document data collection and its evaluation process underlying safety recommendations.

The bill would also allow a majority of NTSB members to meet privately and discuss official business with what the senators call "robust disclosure requirements," in a bid to promote collaboration and communication.

"The National Transportation Safety Board is the driver of safety improvements for our transportation system - whether it's investigating accidents or making recommendations to improve our safety laws," said Sen. Nelson. "This bill will expand the board's tools and give them the resources they need to make sure that major transportation accidents are thoroughly investigated."

The NTSB is an independent federal agency and was last reauthorized in 2006.