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July 24, 2019 6:30 PM, EDT

NTSB Nominees Tout Safety Focus Before Senate Committee

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt began his tenure at the agency in 2006. (Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee)

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WASHINGTON — Nominees to serve on the independent National Transportation Safety Board emphasized the need to continue to thoroughly investigate high-profile accidents to ensure the reliability of freight and passenger corridors during a Senate hearing July 24.

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt, nominated to serve three years at the board’s helm, said completing accident investigations in a more timely fashion, as well as improving the work-life balance for employees at the agency were among his priorities. He also shared his vision for investigative standards.

“I believe that if we only focus on the superficial causes, then we miss accident prevention opportunities,” Sumwalt, who began his tenure at NTSB in 2006, and was confirmed as its chairman in 2017, told the Senate Commerce Committee.

Besides Sumwalt, the panel heard from current board member Jennifer Homendy. She reminded lawmakers about what is expected from NTSB’s staff: “The traveling public counts on us to conduct thorough and objective accident investigations and to issue reports and safety recommendations that are substantiated by evidence and based on facts.”

She joined the board in 2018, and was nominated to serve through 2024.

NTSB nominee Michael Graham

Graham via Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee

Michael Graham, an aviation training officer, also was nominated for a seat on the board through 2020.

“I’m not a lobbyist nor an academic. I’m a real-world operator who has been safely managing the risk of company operations by building a robust safety culture. I lead by example,” he told senators.

Several senators praised the board’s record. Committee ranking member Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) touted NTSB’s role in investigating transportation accidents, as well as issuing recommendations.

Homendy earned praise from committee member Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

“She has performed with real distinction and dedication as a member of this board so far and as we all know the NTSB performs a vital function in investigating unfortunate major crashes and transportation disasters when they occur, and providing recommendations which need to be followed more rigorously and more frequently by the agencies to which they are directed,” Blumenthal said.

NTSB issues a “Most Wanted List” of safety priorities, which includes reducing fatigue-related accidents.

Also defending their nominations at the hearing were Carl Bentzel to be a commissioner of the Federal Maritime Commission, Michael Kratsios to be an associate director at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Todd Rokita to be on Amtrak’s board of directors. The panel has not scheduled a vote on the nominees.

Meanwhile, Senate floor managers have yet to schedule a vote on the nomination of Michelle Schultz for a seat on the Surface Transportation Board. The Commerce Committee easily advanced Schultz’s nomination this month.