By Debbie Hersman
I arrived in the nation’s capital over two decades ago as a college intern believing that government can do important work on behalf of the citizens of this great country. After nearly 10 years at the National Transportation Safety Board, I will depart Washington with the knowledge that the traveling public is the beneficiary of an accountable, transparent government agency with a great mission focused on saving lives and preventing injuries.
I look back at the hundreds of investigations and recommendations that have been issued during my tenure at the NTSB, and I have seen the landscape of transportation safety improve before my eyes. Today training standards for transportation professionals are more rigorous, federal safety oversight exists for the rail transit industry, work schedules for pilots, locomotive engineers and truck drivers allow for more rest opportunities, the majority of states ban texting behind the wheel, and all but two states have passed booster seat laws for young children. These changes and so many other safety improvements are the result of industry, labor, advocates, regulators and legislators all working in their particular spheres of influence to make travel safer for people that don’t always appreciate the risks they face. The NTSB and often, the families of victims, have served as critical catalysts for bringing about change after a terrible accident. It has been an honor to be associated with a noble mission that has at times inspired and evoked passion and at other times, been in the crosshairs of controversy, as real change doesn’t come without a cost. I want to thank President Obama for entrusting me with this tremendous responsibility.
If you are lucky in life, you get a chance to have a dream job. If you are really lucky, you get to have more than one dream job. I look forward to continuing to improve the safety landscape with the Board of Directors and employees of the National Safety Council, another organization dedicated to saving lives and preventing injuries. And yes, I know how lucky I am.
Hersman served in the Administrations of both President Obama and President Bush. She was confirmed unanimously in 2004, 2009, 2011 and 2013 by the U.S. Senate under both Republican and Democratic leadership.
During her Chairmanship, Hersman focused on accountability, integrity and transparency. She elevated the stature of the NTSB with external stakeholders and the public by tripling the number of investigative hearings and public events hosted by the NTSB each year; completing many major accident investigations within 12 months; and revamping the agency’s public and media presence through strategic use of digital communications. Her efforts also enhanced the NTSB’s international relationships, increased advocacy efforts with key stakeholders in government and industry, and elevated the treatment of families of victims of transportation accidents. Her leadership resulted in a more powerful voice for the traveling public.
Hersman will continue to lead the agency until April 25th. Vice Chairman Christopher Hart will serve as Acting Chairman upon her departure.