Committee Asks GAO to Analyze NASA's Air Safety Survey Data

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Tuesday, February 5, 2008


(Washington, DC) Led today by Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) of the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology, Committee leaders asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to analyze massive amounts of data on U.S. air safety that the National Aeronautics and Safety Administration (NASA) made public on New Years Eve (letter to GAO is attached).

NASA acquired the data as part of the National Aviation Operations Monitoring Service (NAOMS) pilot survey  collected at taxpayer expense  on the safety of U.S. air travel. After months of urging from Chairman Gordon and Committee Members to release the data given the public interest, NASA placed a heavily redacted 16,000+ page document on their website on December 31 and made clear that the agency had no plans to analyze or utilize the data that they spent $11.5 million and years of effort to collect.

NASA officials have repeatedly said that they have no intention of validating or analyzing the data collected. Therefore, we request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which employs experts in survey methodology, statistical analysis, and aviation policy, use the unredacted set of data collected by the NAOMS project and promptly provide the Committee with an appropriate analysis of this data, stated Chairman Gordon and Reps. Mark Udall (D-CO), Brad Miller (D-NC), Jerry Costello (D-IL) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL) in their request to GAO today.

For example, we believe that rates of event occurrence can be calculated based on the information contained in sections A and B of the unredacted data. Such calculations could provide insight into the accuracy of FAA data reporting systems, the accuracy of the NAOMS survey itself and may point to important safety issues that would require further study, continued the request.

The Committee is seeking GAOs expertise in analyzing the statistical data as well as in assuring the confidentiality of all those who participated in the study, noting that this matter is a very high priority for the Committee and the flying public.

When the public pays for five years of government work designed to help us improve flying safety, I think the public deserves to get a report back on what was learned. NASA wont do the work, so I am asking the GAO to bring back some answers to the Committee that we can then share with the country, added Gordon.

NAOMS  as designed by NASA  was an air safety survey of 24,000 of the nations airline pilots, conducted over a number of years. NASA initially refused a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the data from the Associated Press citing it could materially affect the public confidence in, and the commercial welfare of the air carriers Committee Members called NASAs refusal troubling and unconvincing, and urged the agency to make the data available to the public.

As originally conceived, NAOMS would have provided a unique source of air safety information which integrated continuous survey data from pilots, ground controllers, ground crews and cabin crew to create a complete picture of what is happening in the air safety system nationally. This information would not be driven by adverse events and would have a statistical rigor that the self-reporting anecdotal systems lack. As a result, safety experts could mine the data for insights into new safety threats as they emerge.

For further information on the Committees hearing and work on this issue, click here.

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