Funding the NTSB … A Continuing Government Saga

In previous Plane-ly Spoken blogs (NTSB Reauthorization–Part I, and NTSB Reauthorization–Part II), we discussed and summarized the key provisions of S.2202, the National Transportation Reauthorization Act.  Senator Thune introduced this bill in the U.S. Senate on December 6, 2017, with co-sponsors Senators Blunt, Booker, Cantwell, Fischer, and Nelson.  The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation considered the bill and, on December13, 2017, approved it by voice vote and ordered it to be reported favorably with an amendment by Senator (and Commerce Committee Chairman) Thune.

The Committee’s issued its report accompanying S. 2202 on July 10, 2018. Senate Report 115-293 contains little information that we did not otherwise address in our two earlier posts.  Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect about the Committee’s report is that it took nearly seven months to issue.  Unlike the FAA Reauthorization bill, Congressional efforts showed little urgency to reauthorize the NSTB.  In fact, Congress last enacted NTSB reauthorization legislation in December 2006 (covering fiscal years 2007 and 2008 only) and the House of Representatives has not introduced its version of a current reauthorization bill.

Starting in 2016, NTSB staff began consultations with Commerce, Science, and Transportation staff regarding NTSB reauthorization bill language. In addition, in August 2016, the Congressional Research Service (CRS), a component of the Library of Congress which provides legislative research and analysis for congressional committees and members of Congress, issued a report that addresses possible issues for reauthorization and oversight. The report includes useful background information on the NTSB’s organization, functions, and staffing and funding levels, and identifies the following issues for Congressional consideration during the reauthorization process:

  • Enhancing the agency’s ability to recruit and retain field investigators and specialists in critical science and engineering fields, as well as professionals with unique operational experience in the various transportation modes
  • Addressing the costs and benefits of operating the NTSB Training Center
  • Addressing two main issues regarding data, voice, and video recorders―
    • the ability of investigators to promptly recover data recorders following a mishap, and
    • concerns about privacy and the potential use of data from these recordings outside the scope of investigative proceedings
  • Addressing the need for additional resources to investigate railroad accidents.

 

With the exception of language included in section 4(c) and (d) of S. 2202 regarding privacy protections for still images obtained from a cockpit or surface vehicle video recorder recording that identifies an individual, the bill does not address the reauthorization issues identified in the 2016 CRS report.

Apart from the NTSB reauthorization process, Congress is actively considering fiscal year 2019 appropriations funding for the NTSB as part of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2019 (known as THUD). Both the House bill (H.R. 6072) and the Senate bill (S. 3023) would provide $110.4 million to the NTSB starting on October 1, 2018, the same amount that Congress made available to the agency for this fiscal year. The $110.4 million is $2.4 million greater than the amount sought in the President’s fiscal year 2019 budget request for the NTSB ($108.0 million).

Accepting, however, Shakespeare’s wisdom that “what’s past is prologue,” the likelihood of a “clean” THUD rather than one or more continuing resolutions at the outset of the new fiscal year is highly questionable.

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