Good morning, Chairman Mica, Ranking Member Costello, and Members of the Aviation Subcommittee. As Acting Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, I am pleased to appear before you today in support of our request for reauthorization. I am delighted to be serving as Acting Chairman of the NTSB at such an important time at the Board. As you know, the Safety Board has a critical mission: We investigate transportation accidents to determine what happened and why -- not so that we can assign blame or determine fault. Rather, we do this work so that future accidents can be prevented. The core mission of the Safety Board has remained the same since the Board's inception in 1967. We are, however, reforming our efforts and activities on that core mission by examining all of our programs and activities to ensure that we are diligently focused on conducting accident investigations and issuing safety recommendations. Transportation accidents are increasingly complex, and the tools and technology available for accident investigation are also increasing in sophistication. However, we intend to ensure that despite these changes, our emphasis remains on quality investigations and timely safety recommendations that prevent transportation accidents, and reduce the deaths and injuries resulting from accidents that do occur. Our job is to work with you to ensure that the Board maintains the technical staff and investigative tools that are needed to confidently and efficiently conduct the thorough and unbiased investigations that the public deserves.
Just yesterday, the Board held a meeting to consider two accident investigation reports: The capsizing of a water taxi in Baltimore, Maryland, and the crash of a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter in the Gulf of Mexico, about 70 nautical miles from Galveston, Texas. Five of the 23 water taxi occupants were killed, and all 10 of those aboard the helicopter died in that accident.
Some of the other investigations that we concluded since our last reauthorization include:
We also have a number of important accident investigations in progress. These include:
Each investigation is important, but our goal is preventing future accidents, saving lives, and reducing injuries. That is why we often say that safety recommendations are our most important products. Each year, the Board meets to determine which of its open recommendations should appear on its list of Most Wanted transportation safety improvements. Our 2006 Most Wanted list includes several aviation safety recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) urging them to reduce the dangers of in-flight icing, eliminate flammable vapors in transport category airplane fuel tanks, prevent runway incursions, require restraints for children under age two, and to improve the crashworthiness of recorders. The most important safety improvement needed for our country's railroads is positive train control. If the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) required positive train control systems, it would prevent collisions and overspeed accidents. The Most Wanted safety improvements for the highway mode include improving motor carrier safety, preventing medically unqualified drivers from operating commercial vehicles, and enhancing the protection of bus passengers. The list also includes recommendations to the Department of Transportation (DOT) modal administrations to update the hours of service rules for transportation workers. In addition, our Most Wanted list includes recommendations to the states to enact laws that promote seatbelt usage, ensure child occupant protection, improve youth highway safety, and to eliminate hard-core drinking driving. The list also includes recommendations to improve school bus safety and make grade crossings and recreational boating safer.
Although open safety recommendations are important, standing alone they do not represent safety improvements. The results that we need are the actions of industry and government representatives to improve safety by implementing the Board's recommendations. When the recipients of the Board's recommendations respond, we carefully consider the actions taken and, if appropriate, close the recommendations by majority vote of the Board Members.
When we appeared before you during our last reauthorization cycle in 2002, the Board had more than 1,100 open safety recommendations and that many had been open for several years. About half of the open recommendations were to the DOT and its modal administrations. We have been working with all of the modal administrations to implement the recommended safety actions and to close the old recommendations. I am pleased to report that our safety recommendation acceptance rate is over 83 percent, and in 2005, the Board reduced the number of open safety recommendations to 810, the lowest number since 1971. We are proud of these numbers, but remain committed to holding our ground on each recommendation, ensuring that the most sensible safety actions are implemented.
Another issue that we pointed out to you when we last came forward for reauthorization was the state of relations between the Safety Board and the Coast Guard. At that time we had been working on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for six years without being able to come to an agreement on investigating marine accidents. There was a need for a closer and more productive working relationship. I am pleased to tell you that the memorandum was finalized and signed in September 2002, and the MOU is working quite well. More importantly, our relations with the Coast Guard have improved tremendously in the last few years, and we look forward to continued partnership in the years to come.
When we were last reauthorized, our Academy in Ashburn, Virginia had not yet opened. In September 2003, the Academy staff took up occupancy in the new building, which has five classrooms, office space, a large laboratory to house the TWA flight 800 reconstruction, and other laboratory spaces and meeting rooms. The facility is also home to one of our aviation regional offices. Finally, it also serves as the Board's continuity of operations (COOP) site, and as a backup COOP site for two other Federal agencies.
A part of the Academy's mission is to provide training on transportation safety and accident investigation. Since the Academy became operational, its staff has focused primarily on improving and expanding existing programs. In response to Congressional concerns about the use of investigative resources to support Academy courses, in 2006, Safety Board management significantly revised the philosophy for the Academy. We will focus upon developing and sustaining innovative and state-of-the-art training courses and programs. The Board will explore partnership and contracting possibilities that will yield higher returns, with decreased demands on NTSB investigative resources by relying more heavily on instructors from academia, government, and the private sector. This will also provide greater training opportunities for all NTSB staff. We also plan to establish Training and Academic Oversight Board composed of senior NTSB staff. The Oversight Board will oversee the curriculum developed by contractors and other third parties. We will also work with and review the operations of other government training facilities to ensure that we benefit from their experience and best practices. One of our goals is to more tightly integrate the Academy into the Safety Board's operation and ongoing work. To reflect this change in emphasis, we are considering changing the name of the facility to the NTSB Training Center.
Although it has been operational for just over two years, we are pleased that the Academy has made great strides in developing and delivering high quality programs that are highly relevant to the transportation community. During fiscal year 2005, we offered 31 programs, 14 of which were designed primarily for NTSB employees. Over 1,600 participants attended these programs, and the Board collected almost half a million dollars from tuitions and fees from the attendees, which included representatives from organizations like National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Engineering and Safety Center, Federal Bureau of Investigation's Evidence Response Team, and the Civil Aviation Administration of China. This new strategic and management vision will position the training center to move forward and to better serve the needs of the Board and its staff.
I want to take a moment to assure you of our continued commitment to investigating general aviation accidents. There has been some concern that we are not investigating as many general aviation accidents as we should. But I want you to know that we lead an investigation into every one of the nearly 1,800 general aviation accidents that occurs each year; however, our regional aviation investigators cannot travel to every accident site so we rely on some of the FAA's 3,500 inspectors to assist us. We ask these trained aviation inspectors to document the on-site findings and to collect evidence for us. Whether we travel to the accident scene or not, we still conduct the research, necessary interviews, and follow-up examinations required for an appropriate investigation. For each case, we write the report and determine probable cause. That is our mandate and we carry it out.
We began fiscal year 2006 with the equivalent of 416 full-time employees on board. This is more than our fiscal year 2006 budget can support, so we have been allowing attrition to shrink this number to a sustainable level. We currently have 396 FTE on board, and we can sustain this number with our current budget. In the last two months, we have initiated some very important human capital planning to help us better prepare the NTSB for the future. Our planning indicates that to carry out the mission of the Board we need 475 full-time staff; consequently, this is the number that we have proposed for fiscal years 2008 and 2009. We recognize that this represents growth, but this staffing level is needed to allow us to investigate accidents appropriately and issue timely and effective safety recommendations.
Our reauthorization request also contains several proposals for specific legislative language that would improve the Board's operation.
The Board's last reauthorization legislation provided the authority for the NTSB to enter into contracts without competition when necessary to expedite an investigation. We are grateful to have been entrusted with this special exemption to competitive contracting rules, and we have judiciously used this authority, mostly for relatively small contracts for investigative services. For example, we have used the authority to contract for non-destructive imaging of aircraft components, as well as for marine vessel stability calculations. It can also be used to retrieve important -- perhaps perishable -- evidence while it is still available. This important authority expires on September 30, 2006, and we are asking that the sunset provision be deleted so that the special contracting authority becomes a permanent part of our legislation.
The Board also proposes that you authorize appropriations for our training center as part of the broader authorization for the agency, rather than as a distinct entity. As I mentioned, we are actively working to more fully integrate the center into our overall mission and programs, and we believe that a single authorization is consistent with this goal. Also, we propose incorporating the content of the training academy annual report into the Board's annual report to Congress.
The Board also asks to be authorized to credit all reimbursements as offsetting collections that would remain available until expended (this authority already exists for training center course fees). This would help us better manage our funds when we are reimbursed by third parties for accident services that those parties are required to provide. For example, airlines are required to fund disaster mortuary services when these services are needed at crash sites. To ensure the immediate delivery of these important services, the Board may commit its own funds immediately after an accident, and seek reimbursement later when there is time to sort out the financial responsibility. Also, we occasionally agree to conduct accident investigations on a reimbursable basis. For example, the Department of State is reimbursing us for conducting the investigation into the helicopter accident that killed the First Vice President of Sudan. Without a legislative change, these reimbursements may have to be redeposited into the treasury account, unavailable for use by the Board. We need the authority to carry forward reimbursements like these.
Our last proposal concerns paying for the services of the DOT Inspector General (IG). As you know, the Inspector General is authorized to review the financial management, property management, and business operations of the Board. The IG is reimbursed by the Board for the costs associated with carrying out these activities. Instead of the Board reimbursing the IG, we are asking that the IG's office be appropriated directly for its activities. This would facilitate better resource management, and I am pleased to report that the DOT IG concurs with our proposal.
As I close, I want to assure you that we are working hard to ensure that the people and resources of the Board are well managed. In fact, I am proud to tell you that in each of the last three fiscal years, our timely and accurate financial statements have received clean audit opinions from the DOT Inspector General.
There have been significant leadership changes at the Board recently. In March of 2005, Joe Osterman began serving as the Board's Managing Director, its highest-ranking career leader. Mr. Osterman is effectively leading a highly talented management team, and as I mentioned previously, under his leadership, the Safety Board has reinvigorated its focus on the completion of investigations and the production of accident reports.
In fact, over the past year, the Board has changed personnel in 14 of the top 24 leadership positions. These positions have been filled by highly qualified and experienced professionals from both within and outside the Board. Some noteworthy new members of the team are Jack Spencer, the director of our Office of Marine Safety, and Gary Halbert, our General Counsel. Dr. Spencer, an MIT-educated naval architect comes to us from the private sector, and Mr. Halbert -- an accomplished attorney -- recently retired from the U.S. Air Force. Both have hit the ground running and are already making important contributions to the Board. Also we are currently recruiting for a Chief Information Officer who will join the agency's management team with the responsibility of managing the agency's information infrastructure. We are improving our performance management system throughout the agency, and we have refocused our efforts on leadership, communication, and the Board's mission.
As I said at the beginning of my testimony, there are important things happening at the Safety Board every day. But we need the support of Congress to ensure that we have the resources needed to accomplish our mission. I thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today, and I am happy to respond to any questions you may have.
Be it enacted by the House of Representatives and Senate of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SEC. 1. SHORT TITLE
This Act may be cited as the "National Transportation Safety Board Amendments Act of 2006."
SEC. 2. RELIEF FROM CONTRACTING REQUIREMENTS FOR INVESTIGATION SERVICES
(a) IN GENERAL. -- Section 1113(b)(1)(B) of title 49 is amended by inserting before the final semicolon, "and for investigations conducted under section 1131, if necessary to expedite the investigation, enter into agreements or contracts without regard to any other provision of law requiring competition" and
(b) REPORT ON USAGE. -- Section 1117 of title 49 is amended by adding at the end the following: "(4) a description of each contract for $25,000 or more executed during the preceding calendar year under the authority of section 1113(b)(1)(B) to enter into contracts without regard to any provision of law requiring competition, and the rationale for dispensing with competition requirements with respect to each such contract."
SEC. 3 ANNUAL REPORT ON NTSB ACADEMY
Section 1117 of title 49 is amended by adding at the end the following: "(5) a description of the activities and operations of the National Transportation Safety Board Academy." [This amendment assumes that the revision in section 2, above, is implemented. If it is not, then the additional language would begin with "(4)" rather than "(5)".]
SEC. 4. AUTHORIZATION AND USAGE OF APPROPRIATIONS
Section 1118 of title 49 is amended as follows:
(a) IN GENERAL. Subsection (a) is amended to read as follows: "IN GENERAL.--There are authorized to be appropriated for the purposes of this chapter $79,594,000 for fiscal year 2007, $99,974,000 for fiscal year 2008, and $104,844,000 for fiscal year 2009, such sums to remain available until expended."
(b) EMERGENCY FUND. Subsection (b) is amended to read as follows: "EMERGENCY FUND.-- There are authorized to be appropriated for necessary expenses of the Board, not otherwise provided for, for accident investigations amounts sufficient to maintain the emergency fund at a level not to exceed $4,000,000, such sums to remain available until expended."
Section 1137 is amended to delete subsection (d).
SEC.6 TECHNICAL CORRECTIONS
(a) FUNCTIONAL UNIT FOR MARINE INVESTIGATIONS. Section 1111(g) is amended to include at the end the following: "(5) marine."
(b) DEPARTMENT UNDER WHICH THE COAST GUARD IS OPERATING. Sections 1131(c)(1) is amended to add after the words "the Secretary of Transportation" the following: "or the head of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating".
STATEMENT OF JUSTIFICATION
AMENDMENTS TO THE INDEPENDENT SAFETY BOARD ACT
Section 1. Short Title
Section 2. Relief From Contracting Requirements For Investigation Services
49 U.S.C. § 1113(b) and 1117
In connection with the National Transportation Safety Board's last reauthorization, the Board sought and obtained needed relief from certain contracting requirements for investigation services. (See Pub. L. No.108-168 at § 4 (December 6, 2003)). Specifically, Congress authorized the Board to enter into agreements or contracts for investigations conducted under the Board's general authority (49 U.S.C. § 1131) without regard to any provision of law requiring competition, if necessary to expedite the investigation. However, this relief expires by operation of law on September 30, 2006. This proposed legislative amendment would codify the relief provided by Pub. L. 108-168 and make that temporary authority permanent.
When the relief was first requested, the Safety Board explained that streamlining the Safety Board's procurement of needed services for accident investigations would improve the timeliness of investigations and, consequently, the issuance of safety recommendations. With the increasing depth and complexity of accident investigations, particularly catastrophic aviation disasters, the Safety Board has been required to perform correspondingly more search and recovery, research, and component testing. These additional requirements have underscored difficulties in the timely acquisition of technical assistance, which can delay investigations.
These difficulties arose because, when contracted privately, outside research and testing was generally subject to government-wide procurement rules, including the requirements for announcement and familiarization for competitive bidders. In the investigative context, these activities were generally fruitless because there are often few facilities that have the capability to conduct the specialized, often unique, work needed. In addition, for scientific analysis, the agency imposes provisions to prevent conflicts of interest and these further reduce the pool of private companies that are willing to do work for the Safety Board. Recovery efforts are particularly time-sensitive and price is far less important than competency. While major underwater recoveries are typically arranged through government contracting with the U.S. Navy's Supervisor of Salvage, smaller recovery efforts were hampered by attempts at compliance with contracting regulations.
Since receiving this authority in 2003, it has been used 10 times and has proven very beneficial in allowing the Board to quickly award a contract to obtain services to expedite an accident investigation. The contracts were in support of aviation, pipeline, rail, and marine investigations, and involved such specialized items as radiological testing, simulation services, and naval architectural support services. In each instance, the processing time from identification of a need to the contract award was reduced significantly as a result of the use of this authority. On average, it was less than four days from receipt of an approved and fully funded procurement request to award of the contract. Using regular competitive procedures, this process could take as much as 4 to 6 months. Therefore, this authority has allowed the Board to significantly reduce its procurement lead-time for the requirements that are in direct support of an accident investigation.
The recovery, research, and testing that the Board conducts is only a tiny fraction of its appropriated funding. Consequently, expedited contracting cannot be deemed to affect any material change in the Board's financial profile. But adhering to the competition requirement has caused considerably delay and complicated our work, without offsetting gain. Exceptions to the competition requirements have been established elsewhere for limited, specific purposes. (See, e.g., 38 U.S.C. § 8153(a)(1)(3)(A)(Department of Veterans Affairs); 42 U.S.C. § 1395ddd(d)(3)(Medicare Integrity Program). It should be noted that the Safety Board was already exempt from the formal advertising requirements of 41 U.S.C. § 5 (see 49 U.S.C. § 1113(b)(1)(B)), and Pub. L. 108-168 relieved the Board of the remaining competition procedures for accident investigations only. The Board continues to be subject to competitive requirements for all non-accident-related procurements. The disclosure and reporting provisions of Section 1117 (4) should discourage any misuse of this provision.
In sum, the Safety Board believes that permanent relief from competitive contracting requirements for investigative services, coupled with strict reporting requirements of Section 1117 (4), will improve the timeliness and quality of investigations and issuance of safety recommendations, thus leading to improvements in safety with minimal risk for misuse of this authority.
Section 3. Annual Report on NTSB Academy
49 U.S.C. § 1117
This proposed amendment makes no change to the existing requirement to report annually to Congress on the activities and operations of the NTSB Academy. It would however relocate this requirement from section 1118 (where it no longer logically fits, based on other amendments, discussed below) to section 1117, thus incorporating the Academy report, which heretofore has been submitted under separate cover, into the agency's annual report. Section 1117 collects and describes the Board's other annual reporting requirements to Congress and, therefore, this section is the logical place to list the Academy reporting requirement. The academy report would now be subsumed within the agency's annual agency report.
Section 4. Authorization of Appropriations
49 U.S.C. § 1118
This proposed amendment provides the authority to appropriate funds for the NTSB for fiscal years 2007, 2008, and 2009.
The requested authorization levels are $79.594 million and 399 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions for fiscal year (FY) 2007, $99.974 million and 475 FTE positions for FY 2008, and $104.844 million and 475 positions for FY 2009.
The proposed amendment to subsection (b) regarding the emergency fund seeks merely to simplify the language.
The proposed amendment eliminates the previous practice of separately listing funds appropriated for the expenses of the NTSB Academy. This reflects the agency's recognition of the Academy as an integral part of the Agency and not a separate entity.
In light of the above, section 1118 no longer references the NTSB Academy. Therefore, because the reporting requirement relating to the Academy no longer fits logically within this section, it has been moved to section 1117. Section 1117 collects and describes the Board's other annual reporting requirements to Congress and, therefore, is the logical place to list the Academy reporting requirement.
The other proposed amendments to subsection (c) would correct an unintended consequence of appropriations law that can deprive the Board of the ability to use funds that it collects as refunds or reimbursements associated with its direct mission costs. For example, in fiscal year 2005 the Board spent more than $250,000 to procure assistance from the Department of Homeland Security's Disaster Mortuary Operational Team (DMORT) in connection with the October 19, 2004, aviation accident in Kirksville, Missouri. Pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 1136(b), the Board has primary Federal responsibility for facilitating the recovery and identification of fatally-injured passengers involved in major aviation accidents, although the affected airline is ultimately responsible for paying for this service. In the normal course of business, the airline's insurer reimbursed the Board for the DMORT expenses associated with the Kirksville accident. However, because the reimbursement was not received until fiscal year 2006, the Board is presently unable to use those funds because they were received as an offsetting collection to funds expended from a prior fiscal year's appropriation. We do not believe that Congress intended the Board to lose the use of funds that the Board expends to facilitate the provision of a service such as DMORT simply because the refund/reimbursement was collected in a subsequent fiscal year. Proposed amendments to subsection (c) would correct this situation by permitting the Board to use refunds and reimbursements that are received in a fiscal year subsequent to the year for which the funds were originally appropriated.
Section 5. Payment for Services of DOT Inspector General
49 U.S.C. § 1137
As part of the National Transportation Safety Board Amendments Act of 2000, the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation (DOT IG) was given authority to review the financial management, property management, and business operations of the Board. That legislation also provided that the DOT IG would be reimbursed by the Board for the costs associated with carrying out these activities. (See Public Law 106-424, effective November 1, 2000.) The legislative history1 notes that the DOT IG would be reimbursed by the NTSB for its work, but does not comment on the rationale for requiring NTSB to reimburse the DOT IG rather than providing a funding mechanism for the DOT IG to cover the costs of its oversight of the NTSB. The Board reimbursed the DOT/IG $274,931 for costs associated with carrying out these activities in FY 2005.
The proposed amendment, in which the DOT IG concurs, would remove the reimbursement provision with the understanding that the DOT IG would be funded directly for these activities. Both agencies agree that this would allow for a more efficient allocation and management of resources.
Section 6. Technical Corrections
49 U.S.C. § 1111(g) and 1131(c)(1)
Section 1111(g) lists the offices, bureaus, and divisions that the Board is required to establish to investigate and report on accidents in the various modes of transportation. The section currently lists aviation, highway and motor vehicle, rail and tracked vehicle, and pipeline, but omits marine. Because it is clear from other portions of the Board's statute (such as section 1131) that Congress intended for the Board to investigate marine accidents, and because the Board has long investigated marine accidents, we believe that section 1111(g) should accurately reflect the modal investigative units that exist at the Board.
The recent relocation of the Coast Guard from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security is recognized by language in some subsections of section 1131, but not in subsection (c). The technical amendments to subsection (c) would recognize this relocation.