NTSB Hampered in Probes Without More Funding, Hersman Says

By Julianna Goldman and Bernard Kohn | August 19, 2013

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, handling the most accident investigations since the 1990s, is “going to have to let some things go” if budget cuts aren’t restored, Chairman Deborah Hersman said.

“We’re getting very stretched,” Hersman, nominated this month by President Barack Obama to a third term, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s “Capitol Gains” to air tomorrow.

“It becomes, again, more difficult for us to launch” investigating teams, Hersman said. “We’re having to scale down the sizes of our launches, the types of tests that we want to conduct. We’re having to right-size those based on our budget. I think if we continue to face additional cuts that the traveling public will not be served and safety will not be served.”

Hersman didn’t say which tasks might be dropped.

The board is responsible for investigating commercial transportation accidents in the U.S. and making safety recommendations to regulators. It doesn’t have the power to make rules on its own.

Its workload increased with this week’s deadly crash of a United Parcel Service Inc. cargo plane in Alabama. The board was already investigating a hard landing July 22 in New York by a Southwest Airlines Inc. plane and the Asiana Airlines Inc. accident in San Francisco on July 6 in which three persons died, the first in the U.S. of a commercial airliner involving fatalities since 2009.

Planes, Trains

The board is also probing a half-dozen private-plane accidents, a train crash in Connecticut involving about 700 passengers, two highway-bridge collapses, a Boeing Co. 787 fire in London and even a Maryland car wreck.

The 413-employee agency had its annual budget cut by $5 million, to $97 million, as part of the federal government’s automatic spending reductions known as sequestration before the streak of accidents began.

“Many of our investigators are going directly from one accident scene to another,” Hersman said.

“Summer is traditionally a busy time for us anyway, but this year has been even more so,” she said. “We’re doing this in the middle of a hiring freeze, in the middle of limiting overtime, limiting training. All of these things will have an impact on our ability to launch investigations and to complete them in a timely manner.”

(With assistance from Angela Greiling Keane in Washington. Editors: Steve Geimann, Don Frederick)

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