I had the pleasure of addressing this group once before in the fall of 1994. I had just started my new job as the U.S. Representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization. So it seems appropriate to address you now that I have started my new job as a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am impressed now as then by the diversity and strengths of the women I have met here. And how nice it was today to have the FAA Administrator - the first female in the job - speak to us at lunch.
I am very grateful to Joann Young, who has set up this wonderful conference, and invited me to be here. When she and I discussed my speaking to you, she said that many of you might not know a lot about the National Transportation Safety Board so I want to tell you a bit about that, and mention some of our aviation safety recommendations. Joann also suggested that since we are in a political season, you might be interested in hearing some observations about the process of political appointments.
Last year I was honored to be nominated by President Clinton and confirmed by the Senate in May for a five-year term on the National Trans. Safety Board (NTSB). The NTSB is an independent agency created by the Congress in 1975 to investigate transportation accidents, determine the cause and make recommendations to prevent recurrence. It is a completely independent agency. That means among other things, we submit our budget directly to Congress without the grim necessity of going through OMB, even though we send a copy of our budget to them. We are a creation of the Congress and I believe the Congress treats us very well. Having experienced the miseries of the FAA budget, and the true bare bones of the State Department budget, the atmosphere at the NTSB is an enormous relief.
The NTSB has five board members with a bipartisan flavor - by statute three are from the President's party and two from the other party. We work not only with aviation, but also with pipelines, rail, surface, and marine issues. Our recommendations go to the appropriate government agency; i.e. for aviation, the FAA; for rail, the FRA, etc. We also send recommendations to state and local governments and industry organization and associations.
Since its inception, the NTSB has issued close to 12,000 recommendations in all transportation modes. Better than 80% of our recommendations have been adopted. In aviation the percentage is 83%. Our Chairman, Jim Hall, likes to say the Board is the eyes and ears of the American people. We exist only to assure that transportation is as safe as it can possibly be and that our government addresses safety needs.
I believe the Board can certainly claim some successes for past work in many areas, but addressing only aviation I would point to our latest: the FAA's recognition that the rudder of the Boeing 737 need redesigning. This has been a long-standing recommendation of the Board based on the investigative work following the crashes in Colorado Springs and Pittsburgh, and there has been dialogue with the FAA for years on this subject. We are very gratified to see this issue addressed.
The Safety Board has no regulatory authority, so it must rely on persuasion and publicity to get attention to its agenda. For the past ten years, the Safety Board has published the list of the Most Wanted Safety Improvements in an effort to highlight major safety concerns. Currently runway incursions are on the list and have been for some time. Since 1991 the Board has recommended some type of ground collision avoidance system for air traffic controllers to prevent impending collisions. The system known as AMASS, intended to address this issue, is still not operational and information indicates its capabilities are not what FAA once expected. The Board convened a special meeting this summer to focus on the runway incursions, and developed several operational measures to deal with the problem while the technology is being perfected. The NTSB recommended that specific runway crossing clearances be issued by air traffic for each runway crossed; that the practice of holding aircraft on active runways at night in limited visibility be discontinued; that standard ICAO international phraseology be used for airport operations to minimize the possibility of misunderstanding. Many of the pilots flying today in the major airports are not native English speakers. They understand and recognize the standard ICAO English air traffic phrases; variations on those phrases used by the FAA could contribute to confusion for these pilots. While Administrator Garvey has recognized the severity of the runway incursion problem by convening a summit last summer and mandating some operational initiatives, runway incursions are still increasing. From 1995 to 1999 there was an increase of 35%. Through October 13, there have been 361 runway incursions; this is compared to 320 for all of 1999. The numbers are not moving in the right direction.
Other aviation issues in the Most Wanted List include explosive mixtures in fuel tanks. The Board has recommended a two pronged approach: eliminate all possible sources of ignition near the tank; and reduce the potential for explosive fuel-air mixtures in fuel tanks. Once again there has been discussion with the FAA for several years with the FAA agreeing to the philosophy of eliminating ignition sources, but not embracing the concept of reducing the temperature of the fuel itself. However, recent FAA work in the area of fuel inerting has been promising and we are awaiting the FAA's report with interest.
The Board has put great emphasis on the safety of children in all modes of transportation. In aviation this translates into our recommendation that children be strapped into child safety seats on aircraft. Everything else on an aircraft is secured, so why not our children? The FAA promised last year to address this with a rulemaking before the end of this year so we are watching the calendar and hoping to see this rulemaking before Christmas.
Another function of the Board, which was recently added to our charter, is the Family Assistance program. Families of aviation accident victims had not been well treated in a number of high profile accidents. After TWA 800, the Congress mandated in 1996 the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act and designated the NTSB as the lead agency for coordinating this effort. That legislation along with the President's directive to six cabinet agencies gave the Safety Board the authority it needed to bring together various state, federal, and local government agencies to serve the victims and families of transportation accidents. The Board established the Office of Family Affairs. I have seen that office in action on several occasions, and let me tell you it is impressive. The office coordinates assistance, information, identification and recovery, and tries to assure that the families receive courteous and sensitive treatment and assistance with the various needs that accompany an accident. The program has been extremely successful. It fills a huge need. Our Chairman, Jim Hall, felt so strongly about the effectiveness of the program that he came up to the ICAO Assembly in 1998, and offered a resolution on behalf of the United States urging countries to develop family assistance programs. The Resolution passed and there have been a number of countries that have developed programs to address the needs of families. Our Congress and our Board have been leaders in this effort and we can all be proud of the accomplishment and hope we never have occasion to use it. Similar programs are being extended to other modes of transportation.
I am frequently asked what Board Members do. The primary function is determining the probable cause to an accident and making recommendations. To do this the Board sits in a public meeting and votes on the causes and recommendations. Many of you may have attended a Board meeting; if not, you may find it interesting. The high profile one of recent years was the TWA 800 accident which went on for two days in fairly intense media spotlight. Board Members take their responsibility seriously. NTSB staff provides us with analysis and we get submissions from other parties as well. Board members review the information carefully and seek clarification from staff at the public meeting. The Sunshine rules do not permit Board members to get together and discuss the accident among themselves, so our business is conducted in public.
Another Board member function is being the spokesman for the government at major transportation accidents. Each Member is on call for a period of a week. If a major accident occurs during that time, the Board Member accompanies the NTSB Go-Team to the accident site. New members go along to observe more seasoned members for a while and during the summer I accompanied other members to a mid-air collision in New Jersey which killed 11 people, and to the Carlsbad, New Mexico, pipeline explosion which killed 12. The first week I was assigned as the sole Member on Duty I received a call at 1 a.m. about Governor Carnahan's plane and shortly afterwards I was on the FAA jet for Missouri.
I have to tell you there is a terrible fascination about transportation tragedies. What struck me first was the randomness of it all. If someone had taken off seconds later, he might not have collided with another plane. If families had camped anywhere else in the New Mexico desert, the explosion wouldn't have killed them. If the governor hadn't planned to speak at a political rally that night, and so on…..The other early reaction I had was amazement at how quickly horrible situations can be organized. You arrive on a scene of death, destruction, personal and community disaster, police drawing up lines around wreckage, press everywhere, cameras in faces, and then a small team from the NTSB arrives and everything falls into place. The NTSB does disasters; the state and local authorities that are on scene are dealing with a once in a lifetime episode while the NTSB folks do it all the time.
I want to leave you with a couple of thoughts tonight about government service. First is that I look for every opportunity to tell people that the public sector is exciting, and that I have had the most gratifying and interesting experiences of my life in government jobs. I really can't think of a more rewarding accomplishment than to improve in some way the lives of our fellow citizens. Government will give you that chance. I mention this because in looking over the distinguished list of women attending this meeting, I see few in the public sector. Let me plant a suggestion that you consider it at some point in your career.
I have spent most of my career in the government, but I have been "outside" in a number of jobs as well. I have seen both sides now, as the song goes. Cross-fertilization between government and private sector is vital for both the sectors and the individuals. It is always a good idea to shake up your thinking every few years. Give yourself a chance to see things from a different angle. Perspective is so important; perspectives in government and industry or business are very different; both can profit from exposure to the other.
Since we will see a new Administration in Washington next year, there will be a large turnover in top government jobs and political jobs. For anyone here considering that option, let me pass on a few thoughts. What I said about government service goes doubly if you are fortunate to be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. In my view it doesn't get any better. But be prepared for what you must endure. And I don't mean the background checks and financial checks, although those are onerous. If one is older than 30, sometimes just collecting all the required information is a major task.
But the difficult part of the appointment process is the time it takes from beginning to end. Your life is on hold during that time. Your name is mentioned usually before the nomination actually goes forward. It is never wise to presume so you must deny or not comment on the rumor when asked. This can get tiresome if you go to a party and are asked 50 times. The waiting is difficult because there is always a rumor that another candidate has emerged and is complicating the process. Sometimes that is indeed the case and you learn you do not have the nomination wrapped up until it is announced.
Once that happens the action passes to the Senate and you are in the "waiting for a hearing" mode. That is followed by "waiting for a mark-up" mode, and then worst of all "waiting for floor action". The frustration here is that the schedule is completely out of your hands and there is little, if anything, you can do to advance it. Of course during all this time well-intentioned friends and associates ask you what is happening with your nomination. If you want to keep your friends and associates you answer politely, although it becomes increasingly difficult to sound pleasant and upbeat. I was tempted to print a sign and hang it around my neck saying, "If I have any news, I'll let you know."
My experience was actually quite good in the scheme of things. I was nominated in November, and confirmed in May, so by many standards I got through the process fairly quickly. The job is worth the wait to be sure. If you decide to seek a political appointment, write this down: remember to keep your paying job, take nothing for granted, assume nothing about the time limit and GOOD LUCK.
I am looking forward to the remainder of your conference and excellent speakers tomorrow.