Accident Scene Priority
Enforcement activity is often inherent in the post-accident investigations of the Department of Transportation (DOT) administrations, and many regulatory requirements are backed by criminal sanctions. The Safety Board and the DOT agreed in 1975 that DOT might undertake a separate enforcement investigation of an accident where participation in a Safety Board-led investigation could jeopardize DOT's enforcement work. Amendments to the Independent Safety Board Act in 1981 making NTSB priority explicit - with the exception of major marine investigations -- had the effect of making any such enforcement investigation subordinate to the priorities of the safety investigation.
We believe there is a significant need for a restatement of Congressional intention in this area because of the increasing likelihood that agencies other than those of DOT will be on-scene and in competition with the work of NTSB.. In almost all of the recent major aviation investigations conducted by NTSB, parallel criminal investigations were undertaken. Examples include the TWA flight 800, the ValuJet flight 592 crash near Miami, the FineAir cargo crash in Miami. The Amtrak collision with a flatbed truck in Bourbonnais, Illinois and the pipeline accident in Bellingham, Washington, are also under local criminal investigation. Similarly, many maritime accidents become the occasion for criminal investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency, while fires aboard vessels draw interest from the arson branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
Interagency coordination between safety investigative agencies and criminal investigative agencies can be complicated. Although the Safety Board believes that Congress assigned priority to NTSB accident investigations, we readily acknowledge that the exigencies of criminal investigation require special care in the handling of evidence at the scene, in the manner of witness interviews, and in the release of information to the public.
We typically accommodate such requirements within our investigative processes. However, without a clear statutory premise for NTSB priority, the ready negotiation of such compromises and accommodations will remain dependent on circumstances and personalities. Although the existing statement of priority is sufficient for most purposes, NTSB seeks clarification on the matter of accidents that may have been the subject of intentional acts of destruction.. Many of the criminal investigations that arise out of transport accidents are consequences of accidental behavior and Safety Board jurisdiction and primacy are never in doubt.
There are circumstances, however, where the nature of the destructive act is initially unknown and may be intentional, as opposed to accidental, and here NTSB priority, while established through precedent and international convention, could use explicit Congressional restatement. To ensure that NTSB will continue to be capable of exercising coordinated leadership in future transport tragedies, we seek an explicit statutory basis for the traditional exercise of NTSB jurisdiction in the wake of the destruction of the instrumentalities of transport, whether accidental or otherwise. Such a clarification would not affect the authorities of any other federal agency, nor be disruptive of the NTSB's longstanding policy of accommodating its processes to the special needs of criminal investigation when criminal behavior is suspected or demonstrated.
We have strayed from my original request but the discussion is fascinating.
I'm wondering, though - the CSB, NTSB, and NHTSA are similarly organized. But yet these other two agencies don't seem to suffer the same political issues as does the CSB. In the West, TX investigation, there was a very visible struggle over jurisdiction and access. The CSB complained that evidence had been either destroyed or removed before they had a chance to investigate. In the same year, there was a train derailment with 4 fatalities the NTSB investigated which then led to a study on sleep deprivation and its effects in the transportation industry. Why is it that when NTSB shows up, other agencies defer to NTSB but the same doesn't appear to happen for the CSB?
Just musing ....
Debbie M. Decker, CCHO, ACS Fellow
Chair, Division of Chemical Health and Safety
University of California, Davis
Birkett's hypothesis: "Any chemical reaction
that proceeds smoothly under normal conditions,
can proceed violently in the presence of an idiot."
From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU] On Behalf Of Secretary, ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety
Sent: Friday, May 29, 2015 7:33 AM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] CSB Public Meetings - input?
From: "Reinhardt, Peter" <peter.reinhardt**At_Symbol_Here**yale.edu>
Subject: RE: [DCHAS-L] CSB Public Meetings - input?
Date: May 29, 2015 at 7:34:46 AM EDT
Ralph's comment below is dead on. Be aware that every time the CSB issues a report the firm under investigation complains to their congressional delegation, who then attack the CSB for every reason they can think of: the report was flawed because of "technical reasons," the process was bad, the investigation was bad, the report went beyond the CSB's legislative mandate, lack of CSB expertise, poor CSB management and leadership, or that the report/process was just too public. The are plenty of members of congress who don't think the federal government should have a CSB of any kind. Few members of congress come to the defense of the CSB and their staff. -- Pete Reinhardt ________________________________________
From: Ralph Stuart [rstuartcih**At_Symbol_Here**ME.COM]
Sent: Friday, May 29, 2015 6:47 AM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] CSB Public Meetings - input?
it's apparently the leadership that's been at issue for some time.
I'm not sure if it's the CSB leadership that's been the issue, but that its status as an independent federal agency means that it's in a very awkward political situation, which doesn't seem to be a high priority for federal leadership. It took 8 years for the Board to start up after it was established in the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments and it has not had the legislated 5 members for much of it existence. And its investigation agenda is more often Congressionally driven than strategic, based on the resources available to conduct the investigation.
Given these political limitations, the work that it has produced has been remarkable, which is why DCHAS recognized it with the 2008 Howard Fawcett Chemical Health and Safety Award.
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