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Opening Statement of Robert L. Sumwalt, III Nominee for Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board Before the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation of The United States Senate
Robert L. Sumwalt
Washington, DC

​Thank you, Chairman Wicker, Ranking Member Cantwell, and distinguished Members of the Committee. I am honored to appear before you today as you consider my nomination as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). I am grateful to President Trump for the confidence he has placed in me through this nomination.

During my tenure on the NTSB, I have served as Member, Vice Chairman, Acting Chairman, and, for the past two years, Chairman.

Under my leadership as Chairman, the agency’s ranking in the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government has advanced 33 percent to our current position of Number 6 of 29 small agencies – a position we have held for the past two consecutive years. According to the Partnership for Public Service, our rating for Effective Leadership: Senior Leaders improved 22 percent over the past two years. Our engagement score is at all all-time high, including our rating for Support for Diversity, which increased 12 percent.

I have placed a high management focus on addressing unresolved Management Accountability and Controls (MAC) risks to the agency. We have also prioritized eliminating the excessive backlog with Freedom of Information Act requests. I’m pleased to report that we have made significant progress on each of these priorities.

In addition to providing agency leadership, my tenure on the Board has clearly demonstrated my solid record as a fierce advocate for improving safety in all modes of transportation, including such issues as teen driver safety, impaired driving, distractions in transportation, positive train control, tank car and pipeline safety, and professionalism in aviation. I have testified before this Committee regarding pipeline, rail, and aviation safety.

I believe that to truly improve safety, our investigations must not simply stop at finding the obvious error. I’m known for dogmatically seeking to uncover each underlying factor that may have led to an accident. I believe that if we only focus on superficial causes, we miss opportunities for true safety improvements.

Before joining the Board, I was a Captain for a major US airline, where I flew a Boeing 737 and other transport aircraft. I have testified to Congress twice on the 737 Max issues. I believe my demonstrated agency leadership, my safety focus, as well as my experience in piloting Boeing 737s and other transport category aircraft, brings a unique and vital perspective to the role of NTSB Chairman.

Despite our progress, I believe there is unfinished work that needs to be done – both from the agency leadership perspective, as well improving the safety of our Nation’s transportation system. Regarding agency leadership, we are actively seeking and implementing ways to allow the agency to be more effective and efficient, including measures to complete accident investigations in a more-timely manner. On the safety front, we are continuing to push for successful adoption of our safety recommendations.

I am honored to have been re-nominated to continue this work and, if confirmed, pledge to work diligently to lead the agency in functioning more efficiently and effectively, as well as continuing to serve as a fierce advocate for improving transportation safety through timely, quality accident investigations and safety recommendations.

Mr. Chairman, if confirmed, I look forward to continuing to work in a professional and collegial fashion with my fellow Board Members, the dedicated NTSB staff, and this Committee, to enhance transportation safety for all.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to answering your questions.