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Reauthorization of the National Transportation Safety Board

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Publication Date: June 2006

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL33474

Topic: Transportation (Transportation policy and planning)

Abstract:

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is a small, independent agency with responsibility for investigating transportation accidents; conducting transportation safety studies; issuing safety recommendations; aiding victim's families in aviation disasters; and promoting transportation safety. Authorization for NTSB funding and activities for fiscal years 2003-2006 was enacted during the first session of the 108th Congress (P.L. 108-168).

In the 109th Congress, legislation to reauthorize the NTSB for fiscal years 20072009 has been ordered reported in the House (H.R. 5076). The bill seeks a 22% increase to authorized funding levels in FY2008 compared to FY2007 requested levels, largely to support a proposed staffing increase of about 19%. The NTSB has indicated that this increase is needed to effectively carry out its mission. Other issues under consideration in the current NTSB reauthorization process include the mission, operations, and funding of the NTSB Academy; relief from certain contracting requirements for investigation-related services; the designation of various reimbursements to the NTSB as offsetting collections; and payment for Department of Transportation Inspector General investigations and audits of the NTSB.

While not formally addressed in the current reauthorization debate so far, two other prominent issues involving the NTSB may come under congressional scrutiny: concerns over industry stakeholders lobbying NTSB officials in attempts to influence the scope or language of NTSB investigative findings, and the NTSB's heavy reliance on experts from transportation entities with a vested interest in the outcome of an investigation for fact gathering and data analysis. Some experts argue that the NTSB should instead create stronger ties with government laboratories and academic institutions for expertise to lessen the chances that bias, or the perception of bias, could creep into the accident-investigation process.

This report will be updated to reflect changes in the status of NTSB reauthorization legislation.