September 6, 2023

House Republicans say Buttigieg neglecting aviation and rail safety


Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg isn’t doing enough to address rail and aviation safety, according to a letter to Buttiegieg from Republicans on the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Accountability.

Committee Republicans want Buttigieg and the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct a briefing and provide the committee with documents and other communications that pertain to the agency’s investigation and remediation of “disturbing patterns[s] of aviation and rail safety failures.” The Tuesday letter cites 13 incidents involving mostly passenger air operations at takeoff and landing, as well as nine incidents involving freight rail, including the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine, Ohio, and the March 30 derailment of a BNSF train near Raymond, Minnesota.

“These safety failures have eroded the public’s confidence in air and rail safety and necessitate thorough investigation,” said the letter signed by Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Kentucky, and 19 other representatives.

The letter also charges that DOT hasn’t taken sufficient action to resolve 86 new recommendations from DOT’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) that address aviation and surface transportation safety issues. By failing to address these recommendations in a timely fashion, DOT is not complying with guidelines from the Office of Management and Budget.

Committee Republicans want DOT to conduct a briefing by Sept. 19.

“It appears from the OIG’s catalogue of long overdue and unresolved recommendations that DOT’s leadership is not prioritizing Americans’ safety on air, land, and sea,” the letter said.

When asked to comment about the letter to Buttigieg, DOT said it will respond to the members of Congress directly. 

The letter comes after a Democrat-leaning rail safety bill passed the Senate Commerce Committee last May but has yet to be debated on the Senate floor and in the House of Representatives. That bill was introduced by Ohio Sens. J.D. Vance, a Republican, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, after the Ohio derailment, but a provision calling for a freight train crew size of at least two people has been met with resistance among Republicans and the railroads.

Meanwhile, a group of 16 organizations — including the Association of American Railroads — last week pressed Buttigieg to appoint a long-awaited leader for the Office of Multimodal Freight Infrastructure and Policy within DOT. The purpose of the office is to coordinate infrastructure funding allotted by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for public and private infrastructure projects.

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