Work That Matters, People Who Make a Difference

By Debbie Hersman

Dr. Paul Light of New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service has defined public service as “work that matters.” Public service makes a difference in peoples’ lives and many people choose to work in government because it matters to them that their work helps other people.

As 2011 comes to a close, we reflect on the gifts in our lives as well as things we will let go of as a new year begins. During 2011 we have said farewell to many amazing employees and this week, three dedicated and incredibly capable NTSB employees, who chose to work in government and make a difference, are retiring. Combined, three gentlemen, all veterans, have given 117 years of service to the taxpayers.

Bob Benzon, a Senior Aviation Accident Investigator, started his career as an Air Force pilot, flying combat missions in Vietnam. He joined the NTSB in 1984 as an air safety investigator in the Chicago field office, where he was responsible for 65 regional investigations before moving to Washington where he has led over 30 complex and highly visible major accident investigations, including the crash of American Airlines 587 in New York in November 2001 and “the Miracle on the Hudson” ditching following a bird strike resulting in a double engine failure in January of 2009.

Mr. Benzon practically wrote the NTSB’s major aviation investigation manual and has been a key trainer for other investigators. He was a true ambassador of the NTSB’s important mission throughout the world – participating in foreign investigations in China, Greece, Afghanistan, and has spent much of his life on the road at accident sites. Perhaps the average citizen will never know about Bob’s personal sacrifices during his four decades of public service; but many of the recommendations he helped author have improved the safety of the travelling public.

Bill Love, Deputy General Counsel, joined the NTSB in 1998 after a career in the U.S. Air Force. Dr. Love earned a doctorate and a law degree while serving in the Air Force. He gave the value of his education back many times over as this incredibly talented and dedicated man transitioned to his second career in public service at the NTSB. Dr. Love has served as the Designated Agency Ethics Official since 1999. During that time, Dr. Love interviewed and screened every new NTSB employee to ensure that the no conflicts of interest existed and that the public was served. He was known for his quick wit and his attention to detail. He was a mentor to the people who worked for him and the people that he served. Bill was extremely proud of the work that he did and even though he worked long hours on difficult issues, he said that he always looked forward to the new legal issues that arose in his work. At his farewell party he told us that he was sad that he wouldn’t be coming to work the following Monday – so are we, Dr. Love, so are we.

Bob Trainor, Chief, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Division, joined the NTSB in 1987 after graduating from the Coast Guard Academy and then serving in the U.S. Coast Guard. During several decades at the NTSB he has been involved in numerous investigations in all modes of transportation, including natural gas and hazardous liquid pipeline accidents from California to Puerto Rico; rail and highway tank car hazmat releases that have caused scores of fatalities and injuries and the 1996 ValuJet crash and multiple airline cargo fires that involved the transportation of hazardous materials. Bob always put the transportation safety needs of the American people first. His work resulted in many safety recommendations that improved transportation safety. He truly is a national resource on hazardous materials and pipeline safety issues and his depth of institutional knowledge will be missed by all who worked with him.

These are just three of countless dedicated public servants who are doing remarkable work for America. In this era of government shutdowns, pay freezes, federal workforce reductions, perhaps it is worthwhile to talk about the good, and even great role that federal employees play in ensuring the safety of the public – here at the NTSB our employees work hard to do just that.

Today, pilots have better checklists, the operating limitations of aircraft are better understood, and the lives of many airline passengers and crewmembers will be saved as a result of the work of Mr. Benzon, his teammates at the NTSB and other federal agencies. Today railroad tank cars have safer designs, lithium batteries are recognized as a fire risk aboard airplanes and — although most homeowners will never know Mr. Trainor or the federal regulators who advance the NTSB’s recommendations — gas companies are installing safety features to prevent a pipeline in a neighborhood, perhaps your neighborhood, from failing.

These three men served the public with distinction because they believed that their work mattered. We are lucky that they served. I salute them and all NTSB employees for doing work that matters.

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