The NTSB's handling of the 35W bridge collapse investigation will be a large part of a congressional hearing today.
The National Transportation Safety Board's chairman Mark Rosenker will go before a subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar chairs the sub committee.
Oberstar says he will take this opportunity to ask Rosenker some pointed questions. He has seriously criticized Rosenker's leadership on the 35W bridge collapse. Oberstar also suggested that he would hold his own hearing on the bridge collapse.
Every three years the NTSB's funding is re-authorized by the House Transportation Committee, which Congressman Oberstar chairs. This is the first reauthorization hearing and all of the NTSB's performance is up for review.
Oberstar is particularly concerned about the NTSB's management of the 35W bridge investigation. He has called the chairman inexperienced. And he could use this hearing to make the NTSB's investigative process more open and accountable.
He could also call for mandatory public hearings.
The NTSB recently decided not to hold a public hearing in the 35W bridge collapse. The aim of a public hearing is typically to gain information from outside the agency for the investigation and to educate the public.
This particular board has had a tendency not to hold public hearings. This time, the board split on the decision, three republicans voted against holding a hearing and two democrats voted in favor of the hearing.
In this instance the board said a public hearing would slow down the investigation and potentially wrest control out of the NTSB's hands.
That decision angered Congressman Oberstar. Oberstar says the agency's independence is in question. The NTSB is using a private agency that the state has also hired to conduct part of the investigation.
Several months ago Chairman Rosenker concluded that corrosion wasn't a factor in the bridge collapse, then had to retract his statement. Oberstar has said that a public hearing would keep the investigation transparent and educate the public about the first bridge collapse in 40 years.
Oberstar intends to use the reauthorization hearing to ask NTSB chair Mark Rosenker about the NTSB's investigation process. He cannot ask for specifics on the 35W investigation, but he could ask whether public hearings should be mandatory, or if the NTSB has enough expertise to complete this investigation.
He could also question the NTSB's decision to use a private consulting firm in its investigation that MnDOT has also hired.