Reviewing and Examining the Francis Scott Key Bridge Federal Response before the Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure United States House of Representatives

​​Good morning, Chairman Graves, Ranking Member Larsen, and members of the committee. As chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), I thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the NTSB’s ongoing investigation into the cargo vessel Dali’s striking of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge and subsequent bridge collapse. We offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and communities of all those who were lost in this tragedy, and our assurance that this investigation will be thorough and impartial.​

The NTSB is an independent federal agency charged by Congress with investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States and significant events in the other modes of transportation: railroad, transit, highway, marine, pipeline, and commercial space. We determine the probable causes of the accidents and events we investigate, and issue safety recommendations aimed at preventing future occurrences. In addition, we conduct transportation safety research studies and offer information and other assistance to family members and survivors for each accident or event we investigate. We also serve as the appellate authority for enforcement actions involving aviation and mariner certificates issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and US Coast Guard, respectively, and we adjudicate appeals of civil penalty actions taken by the FAA.

Our current investigative workload includes over 1,200 active investigations in 47 states and Puerto Rico, in addition to supporting more than 140 foreign investigations in over 50 countries. Throughout a typical year, we work on about 2,200 domestic and 450 foreign cases, and we expect the number of cases annually to remain high and continue to increase in complexity. Our activities include multiple major investigations, such as the in-flight structural failure of a Boeing 737-9 MAX over Portland, Oregon; the derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine, Ohio; multiple runway incursions and other near-miss incidents at airports across the country; and, of course, the tragic collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge after it was struck by the cargo vessel Dali, the subject of today’s hearing. 

Some investigations, understandably, get more public attention than others, but all the NTSB’s investigations are critical for improving transportation safety. We owe it to the families of those involved, to the communities where events occurred, and to the traveling public to find out what happened, why it happened, and to make recommendations to help ensure it never happens again. That’s exactly what we intend to do in the case of this Baltimore bridge collapse.

Because our investigation into the bridge collapse is ongoing, there are limits to what I can say publicly at this time. As I am sure you can appreciate, I will not undermine the meticulous work of our investigators by speculating prematurely about our eventual analysis and findings. What I will share is information about the facts we have gathered thus far in our investigation, our fact-gathering process, the challenges to date, and the expected direction of our investigation based on what we know today. I will also outline how our agency’s needs relate to this investigation.

A comprehensive summary of the facts we have gathered thus far is available in our preliminary report on this investigation, which was released on May 14 and is available to the public at[1] I want to stress that these findings are preliminary and, as in any investigation, may be subject to change at a later date as new information comes to light.

NTSB investigators were on scene in Baltimore and onboard the Dali until May 10, just last week—nearly 7 weeks after the accident. It is highly unusual for an NTSB investigation that our on-scene fact-gathering remained underway for so long. This unusual occurrence speaks to the immense complexity of this event and, therefore, the immense complexity of the investigation. That said, you can be sure the NTSB and our expert employees are fully prepared to complete a comprehensive investigation on behalf of the American people into the causes of this tragedy, and we will do exactly that.

Our comprehensive investigation is a multimodal effort, drawing on the expertise of our Office of Marine Safety, which is leading the investigation, as well as our offices of Highway Safety, Research and Engineering, and Railroad, Pipeline, and Hazardous Materials Investigations.

Since the inception of the agency in 1967, the NTSB has completed more than 2,000 marine investigations. Of those, 311 were major investigations resulting in safety recommendations. In addition, 30 safety studies, other modal investigations, and other Board projects have generated marine safety recommendations over the years. In total, we have issued 2,636 marine safety recommendations to date, including 67 ​recommendations related to bridge collapses due to vessel strikes. All 67 of these ​recommendations are attached for the record.

Our marine safety investigators boast over a combined 400 years of professional expertise in their field, in addition to the decades of combined experience possessed by our highway and bridge, data recorder, and hazardous materials investigators. This investigation is in good hands with their knowledge. 

That said, it is also true that the NTSB badly needs additional resources to ensure a major investigation like this does not impede our ability to respond to additional accidents and complete simultaneous investigations in a timely manner. The Dali investigation provides a telling example. ​

Our Office of Marine Safety currently has 12 investigators. Half of those 1 Marine Investigation Preliminary Report, Contact of Cargo Vessel Dali with Francis Scott Key Bridge and Subsequent Bridge Collapse. ​Investigators were deployed to Baltimore and their time will be consumed by this investigation for months to come. In the meantime, that office is also currently investigating 60 other marine safety events and will undoubtedly be called to the scene of additional marine casualties in the months ahead. The other NTSB offices involved in this investigation—whether as investigators or as staff supporting their ​​​​​efforts—must maintain a similar balance.

The NTSB is deeply grateful to Congress for the additional resources provided in our fiscal year 2024 (FY24) appropriations. We know that was a heavy lift at a time when very few agencies received an increase. I am also extremely grateful to this committee for its leadership in including the NTSB in the FAA reauthorization, which authorizes funding increases over the next 5 years that will help us keep pace with growing costs. I must note, however, that more resources are still needed to ensure timely completion of all our investigations.

The NTSB received a $10.7 million increase in our FY24 appropriations. However, given the $5.175 million cost of mandatory payroll and benefits increases, and the $1.575 million that will be required for inflationary operational increases, much of that appropriations increase is already accounted for. Subtracting those built-in costs leaves an increase of $4 million over FY23. We intend for this increase to take us from 435 staff on board today up to 450 by the end of FY24, but 4 of those positions will be filled by staff for two new Board members. Operationally, that would equate to an increase of only 11 positions spread across all our departments, a fraction of the need.

The fact is, we need to add over 50 more investigators today to be fully staffed. Our Office of Marine Safety alone needs an additional 5 positions—and that’s without growing the number of Marine safety investigators. These positions include our Director of Marine Safety, who passed away suddenly in March; one senior investigator to fill a vacancy; a Naval architect; a program manager; and a mission support specialist.

In addition, we need 16 more aviation investigators, 10 more highway investigators, 10 more pipeline and hazardous materials investigators, and 5 more rail investigators. In our research and engineering laboratories, we need 12 additional employees and $2.4 million dollars to replace aging and obsolete equipment that is critical to conducting robust and comprehensive investigations. And these increases do not even begin to address staffing needs in our support offices, who also play a vital role in achieving our mission.

The NTSB is a small agency relative to our federal partners, both in terms of the size of our budget and our workforce. However, as our recommendation implementation success rate shows, our impact is profound. Everyone at the NTSB plays a role in achieving our mission to make transportation safer. The amounts in our ​reauthorization and budget requests represent only a modest downpayment on the investments we need to boost transportation safety across all transportation modes nationwide.

When I say that we need more resources, I want to be clear about exactly what we are requesting. Our budget request of $150 million for FY 2025 is for an increase of $10 million, which the President provided. We project that $10 million would allow us to fill just 20 more positions—still far fewer than we need—and provide much-needed program enhancements, including investment in Zero Trust.

Again, our budget request is a modest investment that would allow the agency to advance and grow with the ever-evolving transportation industry. To continue as the world’s preeminent safety agency, completing our investigations and developing recommendations that advance safety changes without delays, we must meet the challenges that come with increasing growth and innovation in transportation. Therefore, it is critical for the agency to have additional resources to respond to events without affecting our timeliness, the quality of our work, or our independence.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify, and I look forward to your questions.​

​1 Marine Investigation Preliminary Report, Contact of Cargo Vessel Dali with Francis Scott Key Bridge and Subsequent Bridge Collapse​.