Senators propose changes to NTSB Reauthorization- needed?

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NTSB would be ‘modernized’ under reauthorization bill

Now able to release STILL pictures

Close loophole of other agencies’ disclosures

Most Wanted List– justification

Collaborative Discussions

Board Meeting


After 50 years of its extraordinary work, the NTSB’s statute needs fine tuning according to Senators Thune and Nelson (yes, Senators of opposite parties agree on something). They introduced S.2202 – National Transportation Safety Board Reauthorization Act, which Rail News[1]says “modernizes” the Board.

“After tragic accidents, we ask NTSB to get facts and tell us what went wrong,” said Thune. “This legislation expands the agency’s ability to explain causes and improves the NTSB’s recommendation process so that we can more effectively address our most pressing safety challenges.” “The National Transportation Safety Board is the driver of safety improvements for our transportation system — whether it’s investigating accidents or making recommendations to improve our safety laws,” said Nelson. “This bill will expand the board’s tools and give them the resources they need to make sure that major transportation accidents are thoroughly investigated.”

That the Board needed new tools is probably news to many, but here are the changes which are proposed by the sponsors:


  • NTSB still photo” Adding still images to items the NTSB may disclose during an investigation”.
    • Not sure how the distinction between still and moving images matters. The point is what the picture shows; a photograph with evocative message would likely impact the public whether it was single or multiple frames.

♦♦♦♦not mentioned in the article, but a section of the proposal:

“(2) EXCEPTION. —Subject to subsections (b) and (g), the Board shall make public any part of a transcript, 
any written depiction of visual information obtained from a video recorder, or any still image obtained 
from a video recorder the Board decides is relevant to the accident—

“(A) if the Board holds a public hearing on the accident or incident, at the time of the hearing; or

“(B) if the Board does not hold a public hearing, at the time a majority of the other factual reports 
on the accident are placed in the public docket.”.
  • ALPA probably is not happy with that


  • “The bill also would close loopholes that allowed for the release of confidential information by other federal agencies obtained during NTSB investigations.”
FBI on TWA 800

FBI on TWA 800

Sharing Information With Other Federal Agencies.—Section 1114, as amended, is further amended by adding at the end the following:

“(h) LIMITATION. —A department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States Government that receives information from the 
Board under this section may not publicly disclose any part of that information if the information is exempted or prohibited 
from disclosure under this chapter or any other law of the United States.”.


  • Wise improvement


  • Requiring the NTSB to publish a report on the process used to prioritize and select safety recommendations included in the agency’s “Most Wanted List.”
(a) In General.—Not later than the date that the first Most Wanted List to be published after the date of enactment of this Act is 
published, the Chairman shall publish on a publicly available Web site of the Board and submit to the Committee on Commerce, 
Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives 
a report on the methodology used to prioritize and select recommendations to be included by the Board in the Most Wanted List.

(b) ELEMENTS. —The report under subsection (a) shall include—

(1) a detailed description of how the Board accounts for the risk to safety addressed in each of its recommendations, including 
the extent to which the Board considers—

(A) the types of data and other information, including studies and reports, used to identify the amount and probability of risk to safety;

(B) the reduction of the risk to safety, estimated over a period of time, by implementing each recommendation;

(C) the practicality and feasibility of achieving the reduction described in subparagraph (B); and

(D) any alternate means of reducing the risk;

(2) a detailed description of the extent to which the Board considers any prior, related investigation, safety recommendation, or other 
safety action when prioritizing and selecting recommendations; and

(3) a description of the extent of coordination and consultation when prioritizing and selecting the recommendations.

(c) CONSULTATION. —The Board shall consult with the head of each relevant Federal department and agency in developing the methodology 
described in subsection (a).


Aviation safety is defined in quantitative terms. The NTSB Most Wanted List has been published, but

⇒without the data which differentiates among the Safety Recommendations,

⇒without much explanation of why previous MWL items were deleted/added and

⇒without the data supporting the individual MWL so that those charged with meeting these NTSB goals can understand the Board’s prioritization basis.


  • “Allowing a majority of members to meet privately and discuss official business with “robust disclosure requirements.”


(iii) the General Counsel of the Board is present at the meeting.

NTSB_Panel Discussion“(B) DISCLOSURE OF NONPUBLIC COLLABORATIVE DISCUSSIONS. —Except as provided under subparagraph (C), 

not later than 2 business days after the conclusion of a meeting under subparagraph (A), the Board shall make 

available to the public, in a place easily accessible to the public—

“(i) a list of the individuals present at the meeting; and

“(ii) a summary of the matters discussed at the meeting, except for any matter the Board properly determines 

may be withheld from the public under section 552b(c) of title 5.


  • so that really means that no prior notice needs to be given, but “robust disclosure” means that two days afterwards there shall be a summary of the MATTERS discussed (not who said what when)

♦ ♦♦♦Items not mentioned in the article:

  • extensive additions to the needs of and information given to Families and Individuals involved in accidents
  • a public review of the Board’s report on “open Items” before a final NTSB report.
  • the term of the Chairman and the Vice Chairman extended from 2 to 3 years.

The Board’s policies, processes and procedures, the primary subjects of S.2202, are important. The need for some of these amendments are not intuitive. What, however, is axiomatic? Highly qualified Board Members and staff are the basis for excellence in their pursuit of excellence.

NTSB headquarters

[1] this news was reported by 5 different trade journals, none of which was an aviation related publication. The amendments have applicability to air accidents.



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