Shutdown curtails transportation safety investigations, Senate told

Posted by Curtis Tate on October 11, 2013 


Fire crews are on the scene after an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 crashed on landing at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, California, on July 6, 2013

JOHN GREEN — Bay Area News Group/MCT

The 10-day-old partial government shutdown is delaying investigations of new accidents and reports on recent ones, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board told a Senate panel Friday.

Deborah Hersman told lawmakers that her agency had not been able to launch investigations of 14 incidents since Oct. 1. They include a bus crash in Tennessee last week that killed eight people, as well as a weekend accident in Washington's Metro subway system that killed a contract worker and injured two employees.

"I have a work force that wants to get back to work," Hersman told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. "They’re calling, wanting to know if they can go."

The shutdown has also delayed several ongoing probes, including the July crash landing of an Asiana Airlines jet at San Francisco International Airport, the May partial collapse of the Interstate 5 Skagit River Bridge in Washington state and two Connecticut commuter rail accidents in May.

Former Federal Aviation Administrator Marion Blakey told the committee that the FAA can't certify new aircraft and that the agency has suspended testing of the NextGen air traffic control system, a multibillion-dollar modernization project decades in the making.

She also said the shutdown is risking America's return to space, with NASA facilities closed and private aerospace companies unable to collect payment for the work they perform.

"The longer this goes on, the worse it becomes," she said.

The has shut down scientific research operations such as the Sandia Laboratory in New Mexico and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said the shutdown is "threatening America's standing in the global scientific community."

It's even keeping one of America's most famous fisherman off the water for the first time in decades.

Keith Colburn, the captain of the ship featured on the Discovery Channel series "Deadliest Catch," told lawmakers that if federal observers can't board fishing vessels, the Alaskan king crab fishery will be closed off. Alaska coastal communities could lose business to a big rival.

"I feel like we’re putting Russians to work and Americans out of work," he said.

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