Dozens of major transportation accidents are going uninvestigated and others are being skipped entirely as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) remains almost completely furloughed during the government shutdown.
Approximately 93 percent of the NTSB’s 397 employees are furloughed during the government shutdown, leaving just five investigators and a few support staff to keep key investigations afloat.
Government documents obtained by CBS News show how the shutdown has prevented the NTSB from launching 74 accident investigations, including probes of 20 accidents resulting in 34 deaths and 18 injuries. Twelve of the transportation accidents going uninvestigated involve airplane crashes that resulted in 12 deaths.
Highway, road, and rail accidents accounted for most of the remaining accidents the NTSB is unable to investigate, including a horrific Jan. 3 crash near Gainesville, Florida, that killed five children and two adults from Louisiana.
The NTSB’s investigation of a tractor-trailer that collided with a school bus, injuring 15 people, is also among the probes that have been shelved during the shutdown.
Each day that the government shutdown lasts, more and more accident investigations will go uninvestigated by federal authorities. As of Jan. 17, there were 14 accidents that the NTSB would have investigated but can’t because of the furlough.
“People may die unnecessarily because they are unable to carry out their duties,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said of NTSB investigators, according to NBC News.
The NTSB deploys investigators to civil transportation accident sites across the U.S. and around the world. Findings from aviation, maritime, rail, highway, and pipeline probes inform U.S. policies, rules, and regulations.
According to NBC News, the government shutdown has also prompted the NTSB to cancel or postpone 11 investigation meetings and presentations as well as the release of its annual Most Wanted List of safety recommendations.
Additionally, thousands of existing investigations, safety research projects, and engineering efforts will remain frozen during the shutdown.