What NTSB Couldn't Do During the Shutdown

The 35-day partial government shutdown prevented NTSB from dispatching investigators to 22 accidents. These were 15 aviation accidents resulting in 21 fatalities; three marine accidents; two railroad accidents resulting in two fatalities; and two highway accidents resulting in seven fatalities and 15 injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Jan. 28 posted a summary of the work that was, and was not, done by its staff during the recent 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government, illustrating how much work is done by its small staff in about one month's time. With no certainty as of Jan. 29 that a second shutdown starting in February 2019 will be avoided, the summary points out how backlogged NTSB's investigations would become.

The agency said its employees returned to work Jan. 28, "resuming normal operations and developing plans to address the work that could not be accomplished during the partial shutdown of government. Of the 397 agency staff, 367 employees were furloughed, 26 employees were excepted, and four investigators were recalled and worked without pay to support investigations of three international aviation accidents," it states.

The partial shutdown's impacts for NTSB included:

  • Twenty-two accidents in which NTSB did not dispatch investigators. These were 15 aviation accidents resulting in 21 fatalities; three marine accidents; two railroad accidents resulting in two fatalities; and two highway accidents resulting in seven fatalities and 15 injuries. All 22 of these accidents now require investigative action, according to NTSB.
  • Six accidents in which the agency did not gather evidence to determine whether an investigation was warranted. Two were pipeline accidents (one diesel fuel, one natural gas); three were highway accidents resulting in eight fatalities; and one was a rail accident resulting in one fatality.
  • During the partial shutdown, work stopped on 1,815 ongoing general aviation and limited aviation safety investigations; 33 ongoing rail, pipeline, and hazardous materials investigations; 44 ongoing marine investigations; and 21 ongoing highway investigations.

Work also halted on numerous cases in NTSB's Office of Research and Engineering, and the agency had to postpone both its announcement of its 2019-2020 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements, which has been rescheduled to Feb. 4, and a board meeting to determine the probable cause of a March 2017 runway excursion in Ypsilanti, Mich.

"The 22 accidents in which the NTSB did not launch investigators, but would have if not for the partial shutdown, may not result in investigators physically visiting the accident sites, and, it is possible that perishable evidence may have been lost, which potentially could prevent determination of probable cause," the agency reported.

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