U.S. crash investigators have been unable to probe 13 accidents since the government partially shut down, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board said.
They include a fatal bus collision in Tennessee, a crude oil pipeline spill in North Dakota and the crash of a U.S. drug interdiction plane in Colombia that killed four people, NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman told a Senate hearing today. About 1,500 investigations in all have been put on hold, Hersman said.
“I urge you to take action to permit the NTSB to resume its critical safety mission,” Hersman said in written testimony for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
The accident investigation agency, which makes safety recommendations to regulators, has sent all but 22 of its 405 employees home since U.S. lawmakers failed to approve spending for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.
The NTSB has also had to postpone two hearings, including one planned for next month into the crash of an Asiana Airlines Inc. (020560) plane attempting to land July 6 in San Francisco, Hersman said. The crash killed three passengers and injured dozens as the plane broke apart and slid to a stop.
Hersman said she’s been most frustrated by having tell investigators who’ve been asking to go to accident sites that they can’t. Over the long term, the agency may fail to find safety risks, she said.
“If we don’t go, we don’t know,” she said.
Many U.S. government services have been shuttered for more than a week and the country is six days away from running out of cash to pay all of its debts. Congressional Republicans are at odds with Democrats and President Barack Obama’s administration over funding the government and raising the ceiling on U.S. borrowing.
Senator Jay Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat who is chairman of the commerce committee, released a report today before the hearing on the economic impacts of the shutdown.
Communities near closed national parks are losing as much as $30 million a day, the development of a replacement air-traffic control system is on hold and king-crab fishing in Alaska is at risk without the government running, according to the report.
Rockefeller said the shutdown was threatening the economy’s recovery from the downturn that began in 2008, and criticized Republicans.
“They have recklessly been putting our economy at risk of a relapse,” he said in an opening statement. “This shutdown is doing enormous harm to our country and it is totally avoidable.”
Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, said both sides must be willing to compromise before an agreement can be reached. Wicker was the only Republican to attend the hearing.
“In order to end the shutdown, both sides need to work together,” Wicker said. “Perhaps we are getting closer to a negotiating process.”
Smaller suppliers in the aerospace industry are suffering more than more established companies, said Marion Blakey, president and chief executive officer of the Aerospace Industries Association, an Arlington, Virginia-based trade group.
“With limited cash flow, they are at risk of shuttering their operations in the event of an extended shutdown,” Blakey told the committee.
Keith Colburn, an Alaska-based sea captain featured on the Discovery Channel program “Deadliest Catch,” said the shutdown would delay the Oct. 15 opening of fishing season.
“This is the first time in my 28 years of fishing that I haven’t been in the Bering Sea in October getting ready to fish,” he told the committee.
“I’m a small businessman in a big ocean with big bills. I need to go fishing.”
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