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Management Practices, Investigation Priorities, Training Center Use, 
and Information Security, But These Areas Continue to Need Improvement' 
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Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Aviation, Committee on 
Transportation and Infrastructure, House of Representatives: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 
GAO: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 2:00 p.m. EDT:
April 23, 2008: 

National Transportation Safety Board: 

Progress Made in Management Practices, Investigation Priorities, 
Training Center Use, and Information Security, But These Areas Continue 
to Need Improvement: 

Statement of Gerald L. Dillingham, Ph.D. 
Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues: 

Gregory C. Wilshusen:
Director, Information Security Issues: 

GAO-08-652T: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-08-652T, a testimony before the Subcommittee on 
Aviation, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, House of 
Representatives. 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) plays a vital role in 
advancing transportation safety by investigating accidents, determining 
their causes, issuing safety recommendations, and conducting safety 
studies. To support its mission, NTSB’s training center provides 
training to NTSB investigators and others. It is important that NTSB 
use its resources efficiently to carry out its mission. In 2006, GAO 
made recommendations to NTSB in most of these areas. In 2007, an 
independent auditor made information security recommendations. This 
testimony addresses NTSB’s progress in following leading practices in 
selected management areas, increasing the efficiency of aspects of 
investigating accidents and conducting safety studies, increasing the 
utilization of its training center, and improving information security. 
This testimony is based on GAO’s assessment of agency plans and 
procedures developed to address these recommendations. 

What GAO Found: 

NTSB has made progress in following leading management practices in the 
eight areas in which GAO made prior recommendations. For example, the 
agency has improved communication from staff to management by 
conducting periodic employee surveys, which should help build more 
constructive relationships within NTSB. Similarly, the agency has made 
significant progress in improving strategic planning, human capital 
management, and IT management. It has issued new strategic plans in 
each area. Although the plans still leave room for improvement, they 
establish a solid foundation for NTSB to move forward. However, until 
the agency has developed a full cost accounting system and a strategic 
training plan, it will miss other opportunities to strengthen the 
management of the agency. 

NTSB has improved the efficiency of activities related to investigating 
accidents and tracking the status of recommendations. For example, it 
has developed transparent, risk-based criteria for selecting which 
rail, pipeline, hazardous materials, and aviation accidents to 
investigate at the scene. The completion of similar criteria for marine 
accidents will help provide assurance that NTSB is managing its 
resources in a manner to ensure a maximum safety benefit. Also, it is 
in the process of automating its lengthy, paper-based process for 
closing-out recommendations. 

Although NTSB has increased the utilization of its training center—from 
10 percent in fiscal year 2006 to a projected 24 percent fiscal year 
2008—the classroom space remains significantly underutilized. The 
increased utilization has helped increase revenues and reduce the 
center’s overall deficit, which declined from about $3.9 million in 
fiscal year 2005 to about $2.3 million in fiscal year 2007. For fiscal 
year 2008, NTSB expects the deficit to decline further to about $1.2 
million due, in part, to increased revenues from subleasing some 
classrooms starting July 2008. However the agency’s business plan for 
the training center lacks specific strategies to achieve further 
increases in utilization and revenue. 

NTSB has made progress toward correcting previously reported 
information security weaknesses. For example, in an effort to implement 
an effective information security program, the agency’s Chief 
Information Officer is monitoring corrective actions and has procured 
and, in some cases, begun to implement automated processes and tools to 
help strengthen its information security controls. While improvements 
have been made, work remains before the agency is fully compliant with 
federal policies, requirements, and standards pertaining to information 
security, access controls, and data privacy. In addition, GAO 
identified new weaknesses related to unencrypted laptops and excessive 
user access privileges. Agency officials attributed these weaknesses to 
incompatible encryption software and a mission need for certain users. 
Until the agency addresses these weaknesses, the confidentiality, 
integrity, and availability of NTSB’s information and information 
systems continue to be at risk. 

What GAO Recommends: 

To assist the agency in continuing to strengthen its overall management 
as well as information security, GAO recommends that NTSB report the 
status of GAO recommendations to Congress annually, encrypt all 
laptops, and remove excessive access privileges for users’ 
workstations. NTSB agreed with the recommendations. 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-08-652T]. For more 
information, contact Gerald L. Dillingham, Ph.D. at (202) 512-2834 or 
dillinghamg@gao.gov. 

[End of section] 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

We appreciate the opportunity to testify before you today as you 
consider the reauthorization of the National Transportation Safety 
Board (NTSB). NTSB is a relatively small agency that has gained a 
worldwide reputation as a preeminent agency in conducting 
transportation accident investigations. With a staff of about 400 and a 
budget of $84.8 million in fiscal year 2008, NTSB is charged with 
investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States and 
significant accidents in the other modes, determining the probable 
cause of these accidents, and providing recommendations to address 
safety issues identified during accident investigations and safety 
studies of multiple accidents. To support its mission, NTSB built a 
training academy that opened in 2003 and provides training to NTSB 
investigators and other transportation safety professionals. 

While new transportation technologies and NTSB's safety recommendations 
have made transportation safer than ever, the expected increase in the 
demand for all transportation modes has the potential to increase the 
number of accidents, which could place a strain on the ability of NTSB 
to continue playing its vital role in transportation safety. As the 
nation's large and growing long-term fiscal imbalance demands a growing 
share of federal resources, making increases in the budgets of 
individual agencies uncertain, it is critical that NTSB use its 
resources in an efficient manner to carry out its safety mission and 
maintain its preeminent position. For this reason, in 2006, we 
conducted a broad review of the agency's management practices, examined 
how it carried out its activities related to accident investigations 
and safety studies, and analyzed whether its training center was cost-
effective.[Footnote 1] We made recommendations in each of these areas. 
In addition, in recent years, other entities have conducted reviews and 
made recommendations to NTSB related to information security practices. 
Our testimony addresses NTSB's progress in (1) following leading 
practices in management areas such as strategic planning, human capital 
management, and financial management; (2) increasing the efficiency of 
activities related to investigating accidents, issuing 
recommendations, and conducting safety studies; (3) increasing the 
utilization of its training center; and (4) responding to 
recommendations from an independent information security audit. In 
discussing NTSB's progress in these areas, we will also provide views 
on several related provisions in the agency's reauthorization proposal. 

Our testimony is based on our analysis of policies and procedures 
developed by NTSB in response to recommendations made by GAO and the 
independent audit, updates to information we reported in 2006, and our 
analysis of provisions in NTSB's reauthorization proposal. We 
considered NTSB to have made limited progress in implementing a 
recommendation when the agency was in the early planning stages and 
documents or milestones for actions did not exist or they did not 
follow leading practices. Recognizing that many recommendations may 
take considerable time and effort to fully implement, we considered 
NTSB to have made significant progress in implementing a recommendation 
if the agency had taken steps beyond the early planning stages toward 
addressing the concerns. In this case, documents or policies had been 
developed that, for the most part, followed leading practices. We 
considered NTSB to have fully implemented a recommendation when the 
agency had fully implemented plans or processes that followed leading 
practices. We undertook this work in response to a legislative mandate 
that we conduct an annual audit of NTSB.[Footnote 2] Appendix I 
provides additional information on the recommendations discussed below. 

NTSB Has Made Progress in Improving Many Management Practices, But 
Further Improvements are Needed in Training and Financial Management: 

Overall, NTSB has made progress in following leading management 
practices in the eight areas in which we made recommendations in 2006. 
Our recommendations are based on leading practices identified through 
our government wide work that are important for managing an agency. 
Although NTSB is a relatively small agency, such practices remain 
relevant. Figure 1 provides a summary of NTSB's progress in 
implementing our 12 management recommendations. 

Figure 1: Status of GAO's Recommendations Related to NTSB's Management: 

Area: Communication; 
GAO recommendation: Develop mechanisms to facilitate communication from 
staff to management; 
Status: Fully implemented. 

Area: Strategic planning; 
GAO recommendation: Develop a revised strategic plan; 
Status: Significant progress. 

Area: Information technology (IT); 
GAO recommendation: Develop an IT plan; 
Status: Significant progress. 

Area: Knowledge management; 
GAO recommendation: Develop a knowledge management plan; 
Status: Significant progress. 

Area: Organizational structure; 
GAO recommendation: Align organizational structure to implement 
strategic plan; 
Status: Fully implemented. 

Area: Organizational structure; 
GAO recommendation: Eliminate unnecessary management layers; 
Status: Significant progress. 

Area: Human capital management; 
GAO recommendation: Develop a human capital plan; 
Status: Significant progress. 

Area: Training; 
GAO recommendation: Develop a strategic training plan; 
Status: Limited progress. 

Area: Training; 
GAO recommendation: Develop a core curriculum for investigators; 
Status: Limited progress. 

Area: Financial management; 
GAO recommendation: Correct violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act 
related to purchasing accident insurance for employees on official 
travel[A]; 
Status: Fully implemented. 

Area: Financial management; 
GAO recommendation: Correct violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act 
related to agency's lease of the training center; 
Status: Significant progress. 

Area: Financial management; 
GAO recommendation: Develop a full cost accounting system to track time 
employees spend on each investigation and in training; 
Status: Limited progress. 

Source: GAO. 

[A] We did not make a recommendation regarding this violation of the 
act because we reported the violation in a Comptroller General's 
decision, and such decisions do not include recommendations. 
Nevertheless, a Comptroller General's decision that an agency has 
violated the Anti-Deficiency Act, in and of itself, suggests that the 
agency should correct the deficiency. 

[End of figure] 

Among the areas that NTSB has made the most progress is improving 
communication from staff to management, which should help staff and 
management build more constructive relationships, identify operational 
and work-life improvements, and enable management to better understand 
and respond to issues faced by investigators and other staff. The 
agency managers have, for example, hosted brown bag lunches with staff 
to facilitate communication and conducted periodic surveys of employees 
to determine, among other things, their level of satisfaction and ways 
to improve communication. In addition, NTSB has made significant 
progress in improving its strategic planning and human capital 
management, and progress in developing an information technology (IT) 
strategic plan. For example, NTSB has revised its strategic plan to 
follow some performance-based requirements, and it has developed 
strategic human capital and IT plans. Although these plans still offer 
room for improvement, they establish a solid foundation for NTSB to 
move forward, both broadly as an agency and specifically with respect 
to IT efforts. 

In addition, NTSB has made significant progress in improving its 
knowledge management (i.e., a way for it to create, capture, and reuse 
knowledge to achieve its objectives). While the agency has adopted a 
strategy for knowledge management activities and hired a chief 
information officer (CIO) to implement policies and procedures on 
information sharing, until NTSB completes its strategic training plan, 
which NTSB has told us will include a knowledge management component, 
the implementation of NTSB's knowledge management strategy will be 
unclear. 

To its credit, NTSB has taken some steps to improve its training 
activities, such as hiring a training officer in April 2007 and 
requiring all staff to complete individual development plans aimed at 
improving their capabilities in support of the agency's needs; however, 
NTSB does not expect to complete a strategic training plan until later 
this year. In addition, NTSB's core competencies and associated courses 
for its investigators lack sufficient information on the knowledge, 
skills, and abilities for each competency to provide assurance that the 
agency's training curriculum supports its mission. 

NTSB has also improved some aspects of its financial management by 
correcting a violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act related to purchasing 
accident insurance for employees on official travel, making progress 
toward correcting another violation of the Act related to lease 
payments of its training center, and receiving an unqualified or 
"clean" opinion from independent auditors on its financial statements 
from fiscal years ending September 30, 2003, through 2007. However, 
NTSB has made limited progress in developing a full cost accounting 
system to track the time employees spend on each investigation and in 
training. It intends to request funding to begin this effort in fiscal 
year 2010. Without a full cost accounting system, project managers lack 
a comprehensive means to understand how staff resources are utilized 
and to monitor workload. Until NTSB improves its financial management 
and develops a strategic training plan, it will miss the opportunity to 
better understand how its limited resources are applied to activities 
that support the agency's mission, such as accident investigation, as 
well as individual staff development. 

In addition, a provision of NTSB's reauthorization proposal would 
exempt the agency from the Anti-Deficiency Act and allow it to incur 
obligations both for the acquisition and lease of real property in 
advance or in excess of an appropriation. If Congress decides to grant 
this exemption, we suggest more narrow authority that addresses NTSB's 
particular need to obtain a new lease for its headquarters when the 
current lease expires in 2010. For example, authority to enter into 
leases for up to a specified number of years using annual funds over 
the term of the lease would be a more appropriate option. Typically, 
federal agencies do not require such an exemption because they rent 
real property through the General Services Administration (GSA), which 
has realty specialists, staff knowledgeable about the leasing market, 
and experience in lease administration. As part of the fee that GSA 
charges agencies (7 percent for NTSB), agencies have the ability to 
walk away from a lease with 120 days notice. If NTSB does not lease 
through GSA and instead is granted delegation authority to deal 
directly with lessors, it might not have the 120-day agreement and 
would be responsible for all aspects of negotiating and administering 
its leases. 

NTSB Has Made Improvements Related to Accident Investigation, But Its 
Safety Impact Could be Greater with More Safety Studies: 

NTSB has improved the efficiency of activities related to investigating 
accidents, such as selecting accidents to investigate and tracking the 
status of recommendations, but it has not increased its use of safety 
studies (see fig. 2). Since 1997, NTSB has issued about 2,400 
recommendations. The agency has closed about 1,500 (63 percent) of 
those recommendations, and of those it closed, 88 percent were closed 
with the agency having taken acceptable action, while 12 percent were 
closed with an "unacceptable" status. 

Figure 2: Status of Recommendations Related to NTSB's Accident 
Investigation Mission and Safety Studies: 

Area: Accident selection; 
Recommendation(s): Develop agency orders for all modes articulating 
risk-based criteria for selecting which accidents to investigate; 
Status: Significant progress. 

Area: Recommendation close-out; 
Recommendation(s): Computerize related documentation and use concurrent 
reviews; 
Status: Significant progress. 

Area: Report development; 
Recommendation(s): Identify better practices in the agency and apply 
them to all modes; 
Status: Significant progress. 

Area: Safety studies; 
Recommendation(s): Increase utilization of safety studies; 
Status: Limited progress. 

Source: GAO. 

[End of figure] 

NTSB is required by statute to investigate all civil aviation accidents 
and selected accidents in other modes--highway, marine, railroad, 
pipeline, and hazardous materials. NTSB has improved its process for 
selecting accidents to investigate by developing transparent, risk-
based criteria for selecting which rail, pipeline, and hazardous 
materials accidents to investigate and which aviation accidents to 
investigate at the scene, or remotely, in a limited manner. The 
completion of its effort to develop similar criteria for marine 
accidents will help provide assurance and transparency that the agency 
is managing investigative resources in a manner that ensures a maximum 
safety benefit. NTSB has also made significant progress in improving 
its recommendation close-out process by working to automate this 
process by the end of this fiscal year. Completion of the automation 
should help speed the process and aid the expedient delivery of 
information about recommendation status to affected agencies. In 
addition, NTSB has begun to identify and share best practices for 
accident investigations among investigators in all transportation 
modes. These activities, when fully implemented, will help to ensure 
the effective and efficient use of agency resources. In contrast, NTSB 
has not increased its utilization of safety studies, which provide 
analyses of multiple accidents and usually result in safety 
recommendations. NTSB officials told us that the agency does not have 
enough staff to increase the number of safety studies and, therefore, 
they hope to identify more cost effective ways to conduct the studies. 
We believe that greater progress in this area, which could result in 
more safety recommendations, would improve NTSB's impact on safety. 

Figure 3: NTSB Investigators at an Accident Site: 

[See PDF for image] 

This figure is a photograph of NTSB Investigators at an accident site. 

Source: NTSB. 

[End of figure] 

NTSB's reauthorization proposal seeks to make several changes to the 
agency's accident investigation process that have the potential to 
expand the scope of the agency's authority. For example, the proposal 
would expand the definition of accidents to include events that affect 
transportation safety, but do not involve destruction or damage. It is 
unclear if this new authority would expand NTSB's workload, since 
"events" are not defined in the proposal, unlike "accidents" and 
"incidents," which NTSB already investigates and are defined in 
regulation. In addition, NTSB has not explained the criteria for 
identifying events to investigate. Without explicit criteria, the 
agency cannot be assured it is making the most effective use of its 
resources. 

NTSB Has Made Progress in Increasing the Utilization of the Training 
Center, But the Facility Remains Underutilized: 

While NTSB has taken steps to increase the utilization of the training 
center and to decrease the center's overall deficit, the classroom 
space remains significantly underutilized. The agency increased 
utilization of classroom space in the training center from 10 percent 
in fiscal year 2006 to 13 percent in fiscal year 2007. In addition, 
NTSB is finalizing a sublease agreement with the Department of Homeland 
Security to rent approximately one-third of the classroom space 
beginning July 1, 2008, which would help increase utilization of 
classroom space to 24 percent in fiscal year 2008. Further, in 2008, 
NTSB expects to deliver 14 core investigator courses at the training 
center. While we do not expect any classroom space ever to be 100 
percent utilized, we believe a 60 percent utilization rate for training 
center classrooms would be reasonable, based on our knowledge of 
similar facilities. 

The agency's actions to increase utilization also helped increase 
training center revenues from about $630,000 in fiscal year 2005 to 
about $820,000 in fiscal year 2007. By simultaneously reducing the 
center's expenses--for example, by reducing the number of staff working 
at the center--NTSB reduced the training center's annual deficit from 
about $3.9 million to about $2.3 million over the same time period. We 
believe these actions to increase utilization and their impact on the 
financial position of the training center are positive steps and 
provide some progress toward addressing our recommendations (see fig. 
4). 

Figure 4: Status of Recommendations Related to Training Center 
Utilization: 

Recommendation: Maximize the delivery of core investigator curriculum 
at its training center; 
Status: Significant progress. 

Recommendation: Develop plans to increase utilization of the training 
center; 
Status: Significant progress. 

Source: GAO. 

[End of figure] 

In addition, for fiscal year 2008, NTSB's March 2008 business plan for 
the training center estimates that revenues will increase by about 
$570,000 to about $1.4 million and expenses will be $2.6 million, 
leaving a deficit of about $1.2 million. The increase in revenues is 
due primarily to subleasing all available office space at the training 
center to the Federal Air Marshals starting in September 2007 for 
$479,000 annually. According to agency officials, the projected deficit 
is no more than they would pay to provide training and store accident 
wreckage somewhere else,[Footnote 3] but as discussed in detail in 
appendix I, we do not believe that the plan provides enough information 
to support this conclusion. 

Going forward, however, the agency's business plan for the training 
center lacks specific strategies to explain how further increases in 
utilization and revenue enhancement can be achieved. According to 
agency officials, they do not believe further decreases in the deficit 
are possible. However, without strategies to guide its efforts to 
market its classes and the unused classrooms, NTSB may be missing 
further opportunities to improve the cost-effectiveness of the center. 

NTSB Has Made Progress in Implementing Information Security-Related 
Recommendations, But Weaknesses Remain: 

Overall, NTSB has made progress in resolving or addressing weaknesses 
identified in an independent external audit of NTSB's information 
security program, as required by the Federal Information Security 
Management Act of 2002 (FISMA).[Footnote 4] This evaluation, which was 
performed for fiscal year 2007 made eight recommendations to NTSB to 
improve compliance with FISMA, strengthen system access controls, and 
take steps to meet the requirements of the Privacy Act and related 
guidance by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Regarding FISMA 
compliance, NTSB made important progress by, among other things, hiring 
a contractor to perform security testing and evaluation of its general 
support system--an interconnected set of information resources, which 
supports the agency's two major applications. Although the contractor 
identified 113 vulnerabilities which collectively place information at 
risk, NTSB has documented these vulnerabilities in a plan of action and 
milestones. NTSB officials stated that they have resolved many of the 
vulnerabilities and have actions under way to address the remaining 
vulnerabilities. Figure 5 shows NTSB's progress specific to each of the 
recommendation made in the independent evaluation. 

Figure 5: Status of Recommendations from an Independent Evaluation: 

Information security area: FISMA; 
Recommendation: Ensure that the CIO monitors all key corrective actions 
and provides the necessary funding and human resources; 
Status: Significant progress. 

Information security area: Access controls; 
Recommendation: Remove access authorities to NTSB's systems from 
personnel who are no longer NTSB employees; 
Status: Fully implemented. 

Information security area: Access controls; 
Recommendation: Maintain documentation supporting the initial access 
granted to a user; 
Status: Significant progress. 

Information security area: Access controls; 
Recommendation: Develop detailed operational procedures to guide 
system security officers and system owners in the process of 
recertifying users; 
Status: Limited progress. 

Information security area: Access controls; 
Recommendation: Develop a process to properly analyze and complete 
the annual recertification of users' access authorities; 
Status: Limited progress. 

Information security area: Access controls; 
Recommendation: Implement a control to automatically suspend an 
account after a period of non-use; 
Status: Limited progress. 

Information security area: Privacy Act; 
Recommendation: Update the plan of action and milestones to reflect the 
current status of NTSB's actions to address Privacy Act and OMB 
Memoranda; 
Status: Fully implemented. 

Information security area: Privacy Act; 
Recommendation: Comply with requirements of the Privacy Act and 
policy set forth by OMB Memoranda; 
Status: Limited progress. 

Source: GAO. 

[End of figure] 

In addition to the weaknesses addressed in these recommendations, our 
limited review of NTSB's information security controls identified two 
new weaknesses regarding unencrypted laptop computers and excessive 
access privileges on users' workstations. Federal policy requires 
agencies to encrypt, using only National Institute of Standards and 
Technology (NIST) certified cryptographic modules, all data on mobile 
computers/devices that contain agency data unless the data are 
determined not to be sensitive by the agency's Deputy Secretary or his/
her designate. However, NTSB has not encrypted data on 184 of 383 of 
its laptop computers. As a result, agency data on these laptops are at 
increased risk of unauthorized access and unauthorized disclosure. 
According to NTSB officials, the hardware on these laptops is not 
compatible with NTSB's encryption product. To help mitigate the risk, 
NTSB officials stated that employees in the agency's telework program 
use encrypted laptops and that non-encrypted laptops are to remain in 
the headquarters building. NTSB officials stated that they have ongoing 
efforts to identify and test compatible encryption software for these 
laptop computers. Until NTSB encrypts data on its laptops, agency data 
will remain at increased risk of unauthorized access and unauthorized 
disclosure. 

With regard to access, NTSB has inappropriately granted excessive 
access privileges to users. Users with local administrator privileges 
on their workstations have complete control over all local resources, 
including accounts and files, and have the ability to load software 
with known vulnerabilities, either unintentionally or intentionally, 
and to modify or reconfigure their computers in a manner that could 
negate network security policies as well as provide an attack vector 
into the internal network. Accordingly, industry best practices provide 
that membership in the local administrators' groups should be limited 
to only those accounts that require this level of access. However, NTSB 
configures all users' workstations with these privileges in order to 
allow investigators the ability to load specialized software needed to 
accomplish their mission. As a result, increased risk exists that these 
users could compromise NTSB's computers and internal network. NTSB 
officials stated that they are planning to deploy standard desktop 
configurations, which they believe should address this vulnerability; 
however, the agency has not yet provided a timeframe when this will be 
completed. In the meantime, the agency asserts that it continuously 
monitors and scans workstations for vulnerabilities and centrally 
enforces the deployment and use of local firewall applications. Until 
NTSB takes action to remove or limit users' ability to load software 
and modify configurations on their workstations, the agency is at 
increased risk that its computers and network may be compromised. We 
believe that by fully resolving the weaknesses described in the 2007 
FISMA evaluation and addressing the newly identified weaknesses, NTSB 
can decrease risks related to the confidentiality, integrity, and 
availability of its information and information systems. 

Conclusions: 

While NTSB has made progress in improving its management processes and 
procedures, the full implementation of effective management practices 
are critical to NTSB being able to carry out its accident investigation 
mission and maintain its preeminent reputation in this area. Further, 
until NTSB protects agency data and limits users' access to its 
systems, its information and information systems are at increased risk 
of unauthorized access and unauthorized disclosure. For continuing 
Congressional oversight, it is important that Congress have updated 
information on challenges that the agency faces in improving its 
management. While NTSB is required to submit an annual report on 
information security, there is no similar reporting requirement for the 
other management challenges. 

Recommendations for Executive Action: 

To assist NTSB in continuing to strengthen its overall management of 
the agency as well as information security, we are making three 
recommendations to the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety 
Board. To ensure that Congress is kept informed of progress in 
improving the management of the agency, we recommend that the Chairman 
(1) report on the status of GAO recommendations concerning management 
practices in the agency's annual performance and accountability report 
or other congressionally approved reporting mechanism. 

We also recommend that the Chairman direct NTSB's Chief Information 
Officer to (2) encrypt information/data on all laptops and mobile 
devices unless the data are determined to be non-sensitive by the 
agency's deputy director or his/her designate and (3) remove user's 
local administrative privileges from all workstations except 
administrators' workstations, where applicable, and document any 
exceptions granted by the Chief Information Officer. 

Agency Comments: 

We provided NTSB a draft of this statement to review. NTSB agreed with 
our recommendations and provided technical clarifications and 
corrections, which we incorporated as appropriate. 

Scope and Methodology: 

To determine the extent to which NTSB has implemented the 
recommendations we issued in 2006, we reviewed NTSB's strategic plan, 
IT strategic plan, draft human capital strategic plan, training center 
business plan, and office operating plans. To obtain additional 
information about these documents and other efforts to address our 
recommendations we interviewed NTSB's Chief Information Officer, Chief 
Financial Officer, General Counsel, and other agency officials as well 
as representatives from NTSB's employees union. To determine the extent 
to which NTSB has implemented other auditors' recommendations related 
to information security, we reviewed work performed in support of the 
fiscal year 2007 FISMA independent evaluation, as well as FISMA 
independent evaluations performed by the Department of Transportation's 
Office of Inspector General in 2005 and 2006. We obtained evidence 
concerning the qualifications and independence of the auditors who 
performed the 2007 FISMA review, and determined that the scope, 
quality, and timing of the audit work performed by this audit supported 
our audit objectives. In addition, we reviewed agency documents, and 
interviewed agency officials, including information security 
officials. We compared evaluations presented in audit documentation 
with applicable OMB and NIST guidance, and the Federal Information 
Security Management Act legislation. We also conducted a limited review 
of security controls on NTSB's information systems. We considered NTSB 
to have made limited progress in implementing a recommendation when the 
agency was in the early planning stages and documents or milestones for 
actions did not exist or they did not follow leading practices. 
Recognizing that many recommendations may take considerable time and 
effort to fully implement, we considered NTSB to have made significant 
progress in implementing a recommendation if the agency had taken steps 
beyond the early planning stages toward addressing the concerns. In 
this case, documents or policies had been developed that, for the most 
part, followed leading practices. We considered NTSB to have fully 
implemented a recommendation when the agency had fully implemented 
plans or processes that followed leading practice. 

This work was conducted in accordance with generally accepted 
government auditing standards between October 2007 and April 2008. 
Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain 
sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our 
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that 
the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and 
conclusions based on our audit objectives. 

Contacts and Acknowledgments: 

For further information on this testimony, please contact Dr. Gerald 
Dillingham at (202) 512-2834 or by e-mail at dillinghamg@gao.gov or 
Gregory C. Wilshusen at (202) 512-6244 or wilshuseng@gao.gov. 
Individuals making key contributions to this testimony include Teresa 
Spisak, Assistant Director; Don Adams; Lauren Calhoun; Elizabeth Curda; 
Jay Cherlow; Peter Del Toro; William Doherty; Fred Evans; Colin Fallon; 
Nancy Glover; David Goldstein; Brandon Haller; Emily Hanawalt; Chris 
Hinnant; Dave Hooper; Hannah Laufe; Hal Lewis; Steven Lozano; Mary 
Marshall; Mark Ryan; Glenn Spiegel; Eugene Stevens; Kiki 
Theodoropoulos; Pamela Vines; Jack Warner; and Jenniffer Wilson. 

[End of section] 

Appendix I: Additional Information on Prior Recommendations Issued to 
NTSB by GAO and an Independent Auditor: 

Management-Related Recommendations: 

Communication: 

What Was Found: In 2006, we found that NTSB had taken positive steps to 
improve communications from senior management to staff, such as 
periodically sending e-mails to all staff to share information on new 
developments and policies. However, the agency lacked upward 
communications mechanisms--such as town hall meetings, regular staff 
meetings, and confidential employee surveys--which are central to 
forming effective partnerships within the organization. 

What Was Recommended: To improve agency communications, we recommended 
that NTSB develop mechanisms that will facilitate communication from 
staff level employees to senior management, including consideration of 
contracting out a confidential employee survey to obtain feedback on 
management initiatives. 

Our Assessment of NTSB's Progress: NTSB has fully implemented this 
recommendation. NTSB management officials have put in place processes 
to improve communication within the agency, and NTSB union officials 
told us that they believe that upward communication has improved as a 
result. For example, managers and Board members hold periodic meetings 
with staff, such as brown bag lunches; conduct outreach visits to 
regional offices; hold "town-hall" meetings in which NTSB employees ask 
questions of the managing director; and conduct meetings with union 
leadership to provide information on upcoming actions by the agency and 
to allow union leaders the opportunity to pose questions to management. 
In addition, the agency has formed two bodies comprising 
representatives from management and staff intended to enhance internal 
communication, including upward communication. One body is comprised of 
employees from NTSB's administrative offices, and the other from NTSB's 
program offices. In addition, NTSB has begun conducting several 
periodic surveys of employees, including (1) a survey to measure staff 
satisfaction with internal communications; (2) a survey to obtain 
employees' views on the mission statement and goals that NTSB proposed 
for its revised strategic plan; (3) four separate surveys to measure 
employee satisfaction with services provided by NTSB's administrative, 
human resources, and acquisition divisions and NTSB's health and safety 
program; and (4) a biennial survey to obtain employee feedback on 
NTSB's human resources efforts. This latter survey supplements--by 
being conducted during alternating years--the Office of Personnel 
Management's biennial survey of federal employees that measures 
employees' perceptions of the extent to which conditions characterizing 
successful organizations are present in their agencies. NTSB officials 
told us that because the communications survey indicated a need for 
NTSB's individual offices to hold more frequent staff meetings, the 
agency has established a goal for fiscal year 2008 for each of its 
offices to achieve 75 percent of staff being either satisfied or very 
satisfied with their office staff meetings. 

Strategic Planning: 

What Was Found: In 2006, we found that NTSB's strategic plan, issued in 
December 2005 for fiscal years 2006 through 2010, generally did not 
follow performance-based strategic planning requirements in the 
Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA) [Footnote 5] and 
related guidance in the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-
11. As required by GPRA, the plan had a mission statement, four general 
goals and related objectives, and mentioned key factors that could 
affect the agency's ability to achieve those goals. However, the goals 
and objectives in the plan did not have sufficient specificity to know 
whether they had been achieved, and the plan lacked specific strategies 
for achieving those goals, including a description of the operational 
processes, skills and technology, and the resources required to meet 
the goals and objectives as mandated by GPRA. Without a more 
comprehensive strategic plan, NTSB could not align staffing, training, 
or other human resource management to its strategic goals or align its 
organizational structure and layers of management with the plan. 

What Was Recommended: To improve agency performance in the key 
functional management area of strategic planning, we recommended that 
NTSB develop a revised strategic plan that follows performance-based 
practices. 

Our Assessment of NTSB's Progress: NTSB has made significant progress 
in implementing this recommendation. NTSB issued a revised strategic 
plan in February 2007 for fiscal years 2007 through 2012. The revised 
plan more closely follows GPRA's performance-based requirements than 
did the previous plan, but it still does not fully follow several 
important requirements. (See table 1.) 

Table 1: Extent to Which NTSB's Previous and Revised Strategic Plans 
Follow GPRA Elements: 

GPRA elements: Mission statement; 
Follows GPRA elements: Previous plan: Yes; 
Follows GPRA elements: Current plan: Yes. 

GPRA elements: General goals and objectives; 
Follows GPRA elements: Previous plan: No; 
Follows GPRA elements: Current plan: Partially. 

GPRA elements: Approaches or strategies to achieve goals and 
objectives; 
Follows GPRA elements: Previous plan: No; 
Follows GPRA elements: Current plan: Yes. 

GPRA elements: Relationship between general goals and annual goals; 
Follows GPRA elements: Previous plan: No; 
Follows GPRA elements: Current plan: Yes. 

GPRA elements: External factors;
Follows GPRA elements: Previous plan: Yes; 
Follows GPRA elements: Current plan: Yes. 

GPRA elements: Program evaluations; 
Follows GPRA elements: Previous plan: No; 
Follows GPRA elements: Current plan: Yes. 

GPRA elements: 5-year time frame; 
Follows GPRA elements: Previous plan: Yes; 
Follows GPRA elements: Current plan: Yes. 

GPRA elements: Stakeholder involvement; 
Follows GPRA elements: Previous plan: No; 
Follows GPRA elements: Current plan: Partially. 

[End of table] 

The revised plan improves upon the previous plan by: 

* expressing most goals with sufficient specificity to enable a future 
assessment of whether they were achieved; 

* including strategies for achieving 15 of 17 goals and objectives 
(NTSB describes strategies for achieving the other two goals in its 
annual operating plans), indicating that agency offices will establish 
annual performance goals designed to measure progress in achieving 
general goals of the revised plan; 

* detailing the use of program evaluations to establish or revise goals 
and objectives; 

* incorporating input that NTSB solicited from internal stakeholders 
(agency management and employees); 

* indicating that agency offices will establish annual performance 
goals designed to measure progress in achieving general goals of the 
revised plan; 

* detailing the use of program evaluations to establish or revise goals 
and objectives; and; 

* incorporating input that NTSB solicited from internal stakeholders 
(agency management and employees). 

The revised plan does not fully follow two other GPRA requirements: 

* The plan does not incorporate two of the five agency mission areas in 
its goals and objectives. [Footnote 6] NTSB officials told us that it 
chose to cover these two mission areas in the annual operating plans of 
the responsible offices because the areas are not the primary activity 
of the agency. Nevertheless, GPRA requires strategic plans to cover all 
mission areas; 

* Although NTSB officials told us that the agency addressed concerns 
from Congress in its revised plan, the agency did not obtain comments 
on a draft of the plan from Congress. Nor did NTSB consult with other 
external stakeholders, such as the federal and state transportation 
agencies to which it addresses many of its recommendations. NTSB 
officials told us that they do not believe it would be appropriate to 
consult with these agencies, which sometimes prefer not to implement 
NTSB's recommendations. Nevertheless, GPRA requires agencies, when 
developing a strategic plan, to "solicit and consider the views and 
suggestions of those entities potentially affected by or interested in 
the plan." 

Information Technology: 

What Was Found: In 2006, we found that NTSB was minimally following 
leading information technology (IT) management practices. NTSB did not 
have a strategic plan for IT, and it had not developed an enterprise 
architecture for modernizing its IT systems. It also lacked an 
investment management process to control and evaluate the agency’s IT 
investment portfolio. NTSB did not have acquisition policies for IT, 
such as project planning, budgeting and scheduling, requirements 
management, and risk management. These shortcomings suggested that NTSB 
was not ensuring that its management of information technology was 
aligned to fully and effectively support its mission. 

What Was Recommended: To improve agency performance in IT management, 
we recommended that NTSB develop plans or policies for IT. The IT plan 
should include a strategy to guide IT acquisitions. Our Assessment of 
NTSB’s Progress NTSB has made progress in implementing this 
recommendation. In August 2007, NTSB issued an IT strategic plan that 
takes the following steps to address the concerns that led to the 
recommendation: 

* It establishes goals and milestones for developing an enterprise 
architecture by 2012. (In November 2007, NTSB hired an enterprise 
architect to lead this effort); 

* It includes a draft investment management process; 

* It establishes goals for implementing key aspects of the investment 
management process by 2008 and the full process by 2012; 

* It establishes the goal of reaching Capability Maturity Model 
Integration [Footnote 7] level 2 (the level at which IT acquisitions 
and development can be said to be “managed” rather than “chaotic”) by 
2012. 

To fully implement our recommendation, NTSB needs to improve one 
important aspect of its IT strategic plan. Although other GAO work and 
NTSB’s IT strategic plan stress the importance of aligning IT with 
agency strategic goals, the IT strategic plan is not well aligned with 
the agency’s strategic plan. Specifically, the IT plan does not address 
NTSB’s two top strategic priorities, namely (1) accomplishing objective 
investigations of transportation accidents to identify issues and 
actions that improve transportation safety and (2) increasing the 
agency’s impact on the safety of the transportation system. NTSB 
officials told us that the agency is improving its IT in ways that 
support these goals. For example, they said that efforts to develop a 
project tracking system and upgrade its investigation docket system 
support the first goal, and that the agency is redesigning its Web site 
and improving its Freedom of Information Act information system in 
support of the second goal. 

Knowledge Management: 

What Was Found: In 2006, we found that NTSB was minimally following 
leading knowledge management practices. NTSB did not have a knowledge 
management initiative or program and lacked a chief information officer 
to implement policies and procedures on information sharing. 

What Was Recommended: To improve agency performance in knowledge 
management, we recommended that NTSB develop plans or policies for 
knowledge management. 

Our Assessment of NTSB’s Progress: NTSB has made significant progress 
in implementing this recommendation. NTSB has taken the following steps 
to improve its knowledge management: 

* It has issued an agency strategic plan and an IT strategic plan as 
well as other plans and policies that include knowledge management 
activities; 

* It has made the deputy managing director responsible for knowledge 
management activities within the agency; 

* It has hired a chief information officer to implement policies and 
procedures on IT and information sharing. 

NTSB still needs to take the following steps to improve its knowledge 
management: 

* It needs to revise its strategic plan and IT strategic plan to 
clearly identify which agency plans, activities, and goals pertain to 
management of agency knowledge; 

* It needs to develop its strategic training plan, which NTSB officials 
told us will include a knowledge management component. Until NTSB 
develops this plan and revises the other two plans, its knowledge 
management activities pertaining to training will be unclear. 

Organizational Structure: 

What Was Found: In 2006, we found that NTSB developed a draft 
agencywide staffing plan in December 2005 that followed several leading 
practices in workforce planning but lacked other leading practices such 
as a workforce deployment strategy that considers the organizational 
structure and its balance of supervisory and nonsupervisory positions. 
[Footnote 8] In addition, while managers were involved in the workforce 
planning process, employees were not. Employee input provides greater 
assurance that new policies are accepted and implemented because 
employees have a stake in their development. 

What Was Recommended: To avoid excess organizational layers and to 
properly balance supervisory and nonsupervisory positions, we 
recommended that NTSB align its organizational structure to implement 
its strategic plan. In addition, we recommended that NTSB eliminate any 
unnecessary management layers. 

Our Assessment of NTSB’s Progress: NTSB has fully implemented our 
recommendation to align its organizational structure to implement 
NTSB’s revised strategic plan. NTSB’s office operating plans describe 
how each office serves the NTSB’s mission as defined in its mission 
statement. Further, the plans align their offices’ respective 
performance objectives, and actions addressing such objectives, to 
strategic goals in NTSB’s revised strategic plan. NTSB has made 
significant progress in implementing our recommendation to eliminate 
unnecessary management layers. For example, to streamline the 
management structure in the Office of Aviation Safety, NTSB realigned 
the operations at 10 regional offices into four regions. This action 
simplified its reporting structure and made available a larger pool of 
accident investigators per region. NTSB union officials told us that 
the union has been involved in planning this consolidation. NTSB 
officials told us that the agency is not likely to consolidate any of 
its other modal offices because doing so would not allow the agency to 
eliminate supervisory positions since the supervisors in these offices 
spend a large portion of their time performing investigative duties. 

Human Capital Management: 

What Was Found: In 2006, we found that NTSB partially followed leading 
human capital practices in workforce planning; performance management; 
and recruiting, hiring, and retention and minimally followed leading 
practices in training and diversity management. In December 2005, NTSB 
developed a draft agencywide staffing plan that followed several 
leading practices but lacked a workforce deployment strategy that 
considered the agency’s organizational structure, its balance of 
supervisory and non-supervisory positions, [Footnote 9] and succession 
plans to anticipate upcoming employee retirement and workforce shifts. 
NTSB had issued performance plans for its senior managers and overall 
workforce. However, the goals in NTSB’s strategic plan were not 
sufficiently specific for staff to know whether their performance was 
contributing to meeting those goals. NTSB had implemented several 
flexibilities to assist with recruiting and retention; however, NTSB 
had neither a strategic recruitment and retention policy nor any 
succession plans. Further, NTSB did not follow the leading practices of 
integrating diversity management into its strategic plan and having a 
formal mentoring program and advisory groups to foster employee 
involvement in diversity management. 

What Was Recommended: To ensure that NTSB’s human capital management is 
aligned to fully and effectively support its mission, we recommended 
that the agency develop a strategic human capital plan that is linked 
to its overall strategic plan. The human capital plan should include 
strategies on staffing, recruitment and retention, training, and 
diversity management. 

Our Assessment of NTSB’s Progress: NTSB has made significant progress 
in implementing this recommendation. In April 2008, NTSB provided us 
its draft human capital plan, which includes strategies for addressing 
eight human capital objectives included in NTSB’s revised strategic 
plan. However, these strategies do not always have clear linkages to 
the strategic plan. For example, the draft human capital plan objective 
and strategies for attracting well-qualified applicants to critical 
occupations clearly aligns with the revised strategic plan objective of 
maintaining a competent and effective investigative workforce. However, 
the draft human capital plan objective and strategies for monitoring 
execution of human capital strategic objectives does not align with the 
revised strategic plan objective of project planning; while the 
strategies lay out the provision of annual updates regarding the human 
capital plan, they do not specifically address the development of a 
project plan or its evaluation. The draft human capital plan 
incorporates several strategies on enhancing the recruitment process 
for critical occupations, and addresses succession management through 
several courses of action, such as implementing operations plans on 
executive leadership and management development. While the plan cites 
recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce, its strategies address 
recruitment but not other leading practices of diversity management 
that could contribute to retaining a diverse workforce, such as 
mentoring, employee involvement in diversity management, or succession 
planning. For example, one strategy involves the use of the NTSB 
diversity resource guide, which narrowly focuses on the recruitment of 
underrepresented groups, and does not address other leading practices 
of diversity management. Another strategy mentioned related to 
diversity involves the incorporation of diversity objectives into 
NTSB’s office operating plans, which also focus on recruitment. NTSB 
officials told us that the agency’s diversity management efforts focus 
on recruiting because NTSB needs to attract a more diverse workforce. 
The officials also told us that because the agency has a low attrition 
rate, it does not put as much emphasis on retention of a diverse 
workforce. We agree that it is important to attract a diverse 
workforce, however, a low attrition rate does not assure a work 
environment that retains and promotes a diverse workforce. 

Training: 

What Was Found: In 2006, we found that NTSB was minimally following 
leading practices in training, which is a key area of human capital 
management.[Footnote 10] In particular, NTSB had neither developed a 
strategic training plan, nor had it identified the core competencies 
needed to support its mission and a curriculum to develop those 
competencies. Although NTSB staff annually identified what training 
they needed to improve their individual performance, as a result of not 
having a core curriculum that was linked to core competencies and the 
agency’s mission, NTSB lacked assurance that the courses taken by 
agency staff provided the necessary technical knowledge and skills. 

What Was Recommended: To improve agency performance in the key 
functional management areas of strategic and human capital planning, we 
recommended that NTSB develop a strategic training plan that is aligned 
with the revised strategic plan, identifies skill gaps that pose 
obstacles to meeting the agency’s strategic goals, and establishes 
curriculum that would eliminate those gaps. In addition, we recommended 
that NTSB develop core investigator curriculum for each mode.[Footnote 
11] 

Our Assessment of NTSB’s Progress: NTSB has made limited progress in 
implementing our first recommendation. NTSB officials told us that 
later in 2008, the agency intends to complete a strategic training plan 
that is linked to the agency’s strategic goals. To help develop the 
plan, NTSB plans to survey staff about their skill gaps and to develop 
a curriculum to eliminate those gaps. In fiscal year 2008, NTSB began 
requiring all staff to complete individual development plans aimed at 
improving their capabilities in support of organizational needs. 
[Footnote 12] NTSB also plans to use information gleaned from these 
plans in developing its strategic training plan. Once NTSB has 
completed the training plan and the curriculum, we will be able to 
assess the extent to which they address our recommendation. NTSB has 
also made limited progress in implementing our second recommendation. 
Although NTSB has developed a list of core competencies and associated 
courses for investigators, the agency has not described the knowledge, 
skills, and abilities for each competency. We have previously reported 
that well-designed training and development programs are linked to, 
among other things, the individual competencies staff need for the 
agency to perform effectively. [Footnote 13] Without such descriptions, 
NTSB does not have assurance that its core curriculum supports its 
mission. In addition, NTSB has not described the specialized 
competencies for its investigators in its various modes. However, the 
marine office plans to develop specialized core competencies and 
curriculum for its investigators in 2008, and NTSB’s other modal 
offices plan to do so at some later date after evaluating their 
investigators’ individual development plans. Because these curricula 
are important to help NTSB effectively meet its mission, we believe 
that NTSB’s senior managers and training managers should participate in 
the development and review of the curricula and the underlying 
competencies. 

To its credit, NTSB has taken or plans the following additional steps 
to improve its training: 

* In April 2007, the agency hired a training officer, who is 
responsible for helping to identify training needs, developing related 
curriculum, and evaluating training courses; 

* In fiscal year 2007, it began to encourage senior investigators to 
increase their participation in non-traditional training opportunities, 
such as spending time aboard oil tankers and in flight simulators to 
learn about marine and aviation operations, respectively; 

* In fiscal year 2008, it began requiring all staff to complete at 
least 24 hours of training per year; 

* In fiscal year 2008, it plans to evaluate the extent to which 
individual training courses resulted in desired changes in on-the-job 
behaviors for each of the 27 courses it plans to offer at the training 
center. 

Financial Management—Violations of the Anti-Deficiency Act: 

What Was Found: In 2006, we found that NTSB had violated the Anti-
Deficiency Act because it did not obtain budget authority for the net 
present value of the entire 20-year lease for its training center lease 
obligation at the time the lease agreement was signed in 2001. This 
violation occurred as a result of NTSB classifying the lease as an 
operating lease rather than a capital lease. NTSB realized the error in 
2003 and reported its noncompliance to Congress and the President. NTSB 
had proposed in the President’s fiscal year 2007 budget to remedy this 
violation by inserting an amendment in its fiscal year 2007 
appropriation that would allow NTSB to fund this obligation from its 
salaries and expense account through fiscal year 2020. However, this 
proposal was removed once the budget went to the House and Senate 
Appropriations Committees, leaving the violation uncorrected. 

In 2007, NTSB believed it had violated the Anti-Deficiency Act on a 
separate matter, namely the improper use of its appropriated funds to 
purchase accident insurance for its employees on official travel, and 
it asked GAO for an opinion on the matter. We determined that this was 
a violation because NTSB did not have an appropriation specifically 
available for such a purpose, and the payments could not be justified 
as a necessary expense. [Footnote 14] 

What Was Recommended: We recommended that NTSB should identify and 
implement actions to correct its violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act 
related to its lease of the training center. These actions could 
include obtaining a deficiency appropriation for the full costs of the 
lease, renegotiating or terminating the training center lease so that 
it complies with the Anti-Deficiency Act, or obtaining authority to 
obligate lease payments using annual funds over the term of the lease. 

We did not make a recommendation regarding NTSB’s other violation of 
the act because we reported that violation in a Comptroller General’s 
decision and such decisions do not include recommendations. 
Nevertheless, a Comptroller General’s decision that an agency has 
violated the Anti-Deficiency Act, in and of itself, suggests that the 
agency should correct the deficiency. 

Our Assessment of NTSB’s Progress: NTSB has made significant progress 
in addressing its violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act related to lease 
payments of its training center. NTSB officials told us that because 
congressional appropriators do not want to appropriate funds for the 
remaining lease payments in a single appropriation law, NTSB worked 
with Congress to obtain authority to use its appropriations for fiscal 
years 2007 and 2008 to make its lease payments during those periods. To 
avoid future violations, NTSB will need to continue to work with 
Congress to obtain similar authority in its future annual 
appropriations. In addition, NTSB officials told us that the agency has 
asked Congress to ratify the lease payments it made from 2001 through 
2006. 

NTSB has fully addressed its violation related to purchasing accident 
insurance for employees on official travel. In September 2007, NTSB 
reported the violation to Congress and the President, as required by 
the act. NTSB also successfully worked with Congress to remedy the 
violation through a fiscal year 2008 appropriation. NTSB canceled the 
insurance policy, and NTSB officials told us that the agency has worked 
with Congress to obtain authority for future purchases of accident 
insurance. A bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration 
would provide NTSB with such authority. [Footnote 15] 

Financial Management—Cost Accounting: 

What Was Found: In 2006, we found that NTSB had made significant 
progress in improving its financial management by hiring a Chief 
Financial Officer and putting controls on its purchasing activities. As 
a result of actions taken by NTSB, the agency received an unqualified 
or “clean” opinion from independent auditors on its financial 
statements for the fiscal years ending September 30 for the years 2003, 
2004, and 2005. The audit report concluded that NTSB’s financial 
statements presented fairly, in all material respects, the financial 
position, net cost, changes in net position, budgetary resources, and 
financing in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles 
for the three years. However, without a full cost accounting system 
capable of tracking hours that staff spent on individual 
investigations, in training, or at conferences, NTSB lacked sufficient 
information to plan the allocation of staff time or to effectively 
manage staff workloads. 

What Was Recommended: To improve agency performance in the key 
functional management area of financial management, we recommended that 
NTSB develop a full cost accounting system that would track the amount 
of time employees spend on each investigation and in training. 

Our Assessment of NTSB’s Progress: NTSB has made limited progress in 
implementing this recommendation. Although NTSB routinely assigns a 
project code to many non payroll costs, its time and attendance system 
still does not allow the agency to routinely and reliably track the 
time that employees spend on each investigation or other activities, 
such as training. However, NTSB officials told us that the agency wants 
to add the ability to charge costs to projects (i.e., activities) and 
that it has discussed this addition with the provider of most of NTSB’s 
financial system needs—the Department of Interior’s (DOI) National 
Business Center. According to NTSB officials, this modification would 
enable direct recording by activity of hours worked and of 
corresponding payroll costs. NTSB officials also said that because the 
agency has not had sufficient funding to make this modification, it 
intends to request specific funding for this effort as part of its 
budget appropriation for fiscal year 2010. NTSB said that in the 
meantime, it will continue discussions with DOI and that it has begun 
to benchmark the planned modification to systems of agencies of 
comparable size. It anticipates that, once underway, DOI would work 
with NTSB to manage the implementation. 

[End of subsection] 

Recommendations Related to NTSB’s Accident Investigation Mission and 
Safety Studies: 

Accident Selection: 

What Was Found: In 2006, we found that for some transportation modes, 
NTSB had detailed, risk-based criteria for selecting which accidents to 
investigate, while for others it did not. For example, NTSB had 
criteria to select highway accidents for investigation based on the 
severity of the accident and amount of property damage. In contrast, 
NTSB did not have a documented policy with criteria for selecting rail, 
pipeline, and hazardous materials accidents. Instead, the decisions to 
investigate accidents were made by the office directors based on their 
judgment. As a result, for these modes, the agency lacked assurance and 
transparency that it was managing resources in a manner that ensured a 
maximum safety benefit. Such criteria were also important because NTSB 
did not have enough resources to investigate all accidents. 

What Was Recommended: To make the most effective use of its 
investigation resources and increase transparency, we recommended that 
NTSB develop orders for all transportation modes that articulate risk-
based criteria for determining which accidents would provide the 
greatest safety benefit to investigate or, in the case of aviation 
accidents, explain which accidents are investigated at the scene, or 
remotely, in a limited manner. [Footnote 16] 

Our Assessment of NTSB’s Progress: NTSB has made significant progress 
in implementing this recommendation. NTSB developed a transparent 
policy containing risk-based criteria for selecting which rail, 
pipeline, and hazardous materials accidents to investigate. This policy 
assigns priority to investigating accidents based on whether the 
accident involved a collision or derailment and whether it involved 
fatalities or injuries, among other factors. For marine accidents, NTSB 
has a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Coast Guard that 
includes criteria for selecting which accidents to investigate. To 
enhance the memorandum of understanding, NTSB plans to consult with 
stakeholders and develop an internal policy on selecting marine 
accidents in 2008 once certain legal issues are resolved. In addition, 
NTSB has developed a transparent, risk-based policy explaining which 
aviation accidents are investigated at the scene, or remotely, in a 
limited manner, depending on whether they involve a fatality and the 
type of aircraft. 

Recommendation Close-Out What Was Found In 2006, we found that NTSB’s 
process for changing the status of recommendations was paper-based and 
used sequential reviews, which slowed the process and prevented 
expedient delivery of information about recommendation status to 
affected agencies. What Was Recommended We recommended that NTSB 
improve the efficiency of its process for changing the status of 
recommendations by computerizing the documentation and implementing 
concurrent reviews. Our Assessment of NTSB’s Progress NTSB has made 
significant progress in implementing this recommendation. NTSB recently 
completed a pilot program that involved electronic distribution of 
documents related to recommendation status. The results of that test 
are helping to guide development of an information system intended to 
help the agency manage its process for changing the status of 
recommendations. NTSB aims to fully implement the system by the end of 
fiscal year 2008. NTSB said that the system is being developed to 
support concurrent reviews. When fully implemented, this system should 
serve to close our recommendation. 

Report Development: 

What Was Found: NTSB faced challenges to efficiently develop its 
reports; partly as a result, its investigations of major accidents 
routinely took longer than 2 years to complete. These challenges 
included multiple revisions of draft investigation reports at different 
levels in the organization, excessive workloads for writer/editors, and 
too few final layout and typesetting staff. NTSB had taken several 
actions aimed at shortening report development time, such as 
reemphasizing its policy on holding report development meetings to 
obtain early buy-in on report messages and holding modal directors 
accountable for specific issuance dates. We also identified practices 
in certain offices, such as the use of a project manager or deputy 
investigator-in-charge to handle report production, which had the 
potential to improve the efficiency of the agency’s report development 
process if used by all modal offices. 

What Was Recommended: To enhance the efficiency of its report 
development process, we recommended that NTSB identify better practices 
in the agency and apply them to all modes. NTSB should consider such 
things as using project managers or deputy investigators-in-charge in 
all modes, using incentives to encourage performance in report 
development, and examining the layers of review to find ways to 
streamline the process, such as eliminating some levels of review and 
using concurrent reviews as appropriate. 

Our Assessment of NTSB’s Progress: NTSB has made significant progress 
in implementing this recommendation. NTSB examined and made several 
improvements to its report development process. For example, NTSB 
directed its office of safety recommendations and advocacy to provide 
comments on draft reports at the same time as other offices, instead of 
beforehand. NTSB estimates that this has reduced the time it takes to 
develop a report by 2 weeks. NTSB officials also told us that the 
agency established and filled a permanent position with a primary 
responsibility of quality assurance in the report development process. 
In addition, NTSB officials told us that the agency held a 
comprehensive training program in February 2008 for investigators in 
charge to learn about and share best practices across NTSB’s modal 
offices related to investigations and report development. NTSB also 
took or is taking the following steps to improve the efficiency with 
which Board members are able to review and approve draft reports: 

* It is relying more on electronic rather than paper distribution of 
draft reports; 

* It reduced the time allotted to Board members to concur or non-concur 
with staff responses to a Board member’s proposed revisions from up to 
20 days to up to 10 days; 

* It is developing an information system to manage the process, which 
it aims to fully implement by the end of fiscal year 2008. 

Aside from its highway office which was already doing so, NTSB’s modal 
offices decided not to use project managers or deputy investigators-in-
charge to lead report development because the offices did not believe 
that doing so would appropriately address their report development 
issues; NTSB did not provide any further explanation of the basis for 
this decision. NTSB officials told us that its office of marine safety 
has improved the efficiency and effectiveness of its report development 
process by shifting responsibility for writing reports from three 
writer/editors to investigators-in-charge; the office’s one remaining 
writer/editor now focuses on editing. Finally, in December 2007, NTSB’s 
office of railroad, pipeline, and hazardous materials safety hired a 
deputy chief in the railroad division who will be responsible for 
streamlining the division’s report development process. 

Safety Studies: 

What Was Found: In 2006, we found that in addition to its accident 
investigations, NTSB conducts studies on issues that may be relevant to 
more than one accident. These safety studies, which usually result in 
recommendations, are intended to improve transportation safety by 
effecting changes to policies, programs, and activities of agencies 
that regulate transportation safety. From 2000 to 2005, NTSB completed 
only four safety studies; NTSB officials told us that the number of 
safety studies it conducts is resource-driven. Industry stakeholders 
stated they would like NTSB to conduct more safety studies because the 
studies address NTSB’s mission in a proactive way, allowing for trend 
analysis and preventative actions. NTSB officials recognized the 
importance of safety studies, and they said that they would like to 
find ways to reduce the time and resources required to complete the 
studies. We concluded that NTSB’s limited use of safety studies to 
proactively examine and highlight safety issues may limit the 
effectiveness of its efforts to improve transportation safety. 

What Was Recommended: To be more proactive in identifying and 
correcting safety problems before accidents occur, we recommended that 
NTSB increase its utilization of safety studies. 

Our Assessment of NTSB’s Progress: NTSB has made limited progress in 
implementing this recommendation. NTSB has not completed any safety 
studies since we made our recommendation and has only one study in 
progress. Although it has established a goal of developing and 
submitting to NTSB’s Board for approval two safety study proposals per 
year, it does not have a goal related to completing safety studies. 
NTSB officials told us that the agency still does not have enough staff 
to increase its output of safety studies on its own. NTSB told us that 
it has therefore begun to place more emphasis on a number of 
alternative products to safety studies which address important safety 
issues but are not as resource intensive. In addition, NTSB is 
examining the potential of using contractors to perform certain aspects 
of safety studies, such as data collection, and conducting some studies 
in collaboration with other entities, such as the National Aeronautics 
and Space Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, a 
national laboratory, and foreign accident investigation organizations. 

[End of subsection] 

Recommendations Related to Training Center Utilization: 

Core Investigator Curriculum: 

What Was Found: In 2006, we found that the training center was 
underutilized, with less than 10 percent of the available classroom 
capacity being used during fiscal years 2005 and 2006. This contributed 
to the training center not being cost-effective, as the combination of 
the training center’s revenues and external training costs avoided by 
NTSB staff’s use of the facility did not cover the center’s costs. 

What Was Recommended: We recommended that NTSB maximize the delivery of 
core investigator curriculum at its training center. 

Our Assessment of NTSB’s Progress: NTSB has made significant progress 
in implementing this recommendation by scheduling 14 core investigator 
courses at its training center in fiscal year 2008. In addition, NTSB 
started a new workforce development curriculum intended to address 
competencies not directly related to investigate activity, such as 
information security and written communications. NTSB officials told us 
that since it began this curriculum, the frequency and attendance of 
classes has increased significantly, but we could not verify this 
statement. 

Utilization of the Training Center: 

What Was Found: In 2006, we found that NTSB’s training center was not 
cost-effective, as the combination of the training center’s revenues 
and external training costs avoided by NTSB staff’s use of the facility 
did not cover the center’s costs. As a result, those portions of the 
training center’s costs that were not covered by the revenues from 
tuition and other sources—approximately $6.3 million in fiscal year 
2004 and $3.9 million in fiscal year 2005—were offset by general 
appropriations to the agency. While NTSB was generating revenues from 
other sources, such as renting training center space for conferences 
and securing contracts that allowed federal agencies to use training 
center space for continuity of operations in emergency situations, the 
training center was underutilized, with less than 10 percent of the 
available classroom capacity being used during fiscal years 2005 and 
2006. NTSB lacked a comprehensive strategy for addressing this issue. 

What Was Recommended: We recommended that NTSB develop a business plan 
and a marketing plan to increase utilization of the training center or 
vacate its training center. NTSB should determine the costs and 
feasibility of alternative actions such as adding more courses for NTSB 
staff, moving headquarters staff to the center, subleasing space to 
other entities, or buying out the lease. 

Our Assessment of NTSB’s Progress: NTSB has made significant progress 
in implementing this recommendation. For example, according to NTSB, it 
assessed the advantages and disadvantages of moving headquarters staff 
and functions to the training center but determined it was not cost 
effective. NTSB also told us that it determined that buying out the 
training center lease was not an available option. NTSB completed a 
draft business plan in March 2007 and a revised business plan in March 
2008. [Footnote 17] We reviewed the 2007 draft plan and concluded that 
the overall strategy presented in the business plan to hire a vendor to 
manage and operate the training center was reasonable, but the plan 
provided too little rationale for its marketing and financial 
assumptions for us to assess the validity of this strategy. In July 
2007, NTSB abandoned the strategy laid out in its business plan because 
it could not find a suitable vendor. 

While certain aspects of the revised business plan have been improved 
over the previous plan, overall, the revised plan lacks key financial 
and marketing information that is essential to a business plan. For 
example, NTSB’s revised business plan does not contain historical 
financial information or forecast financial information beyond fiscal 
year 2008 [Footnote 18] Further, the plan does not describe assumptions 
included in the plan, such as the inclusion of imputed fees for NTSB 
students in NTSB’s tuition revenues. In addition, although the revised 
business plan contains some goals, such as subleasing space to other 
federal entities and obtaining an additional continuity of operations 
agreement, the plan does not contain strategies for achieving these 
goals [Footnote 19] Further, while NTSB’s revised business plan 
indicates that the training center is cost-effective if cost 
savings—such as avoided costs of renting outside space for one regional 
office and storage of the reconstructed wreckage of TWA flight 800—are 
accounted for. However, the plan does not provide enough information to 
support this conclusion. While we believe that NTSB is justified in 
offsetting expenses that the agency would incur in the absence of the 
training center, the plan does not explain how NTSB estimated the 
values of these offsets. The plan does not include a rationale for 
assuming that NTSB would have to maintain all 30,000 square feet of 
warehouse space in the absence of the training center, or that space 
for both its regional aviation investigation office and the warehouse 
would cost NTSB $35 per square foot if rented elsewhere. In addition, 
it is not clear why certain items, such as the warehouse space rental, 
is included as an offset, while other items, such as savings for 
necessary accident investigation and family assistance training space 
needs, are not included as an offset. Finally, the plan lacks 
discussion of cost-saving alternatives, such as using space already 
available at NTSB headquarters for certain offset activities, such as 
select training courses. When asked about these shortfalls in the 
business plan, agency officials indicated that there was no flexibility 
in changing the configuration of the warehouse space, requiring the 
warehouse space to be considered an offset. In contrast, office and 
training space is included in the financial analysis due to its 
flexibility for expanded utilization. The agency did not comment on our 
other comments about the business plan. 

NTSB has taken steps to increase utilization of the training center and 
to decrease the center’s overall deficit, including the following: 

* NTSB subleased all available office space at its training center to 
the Federal Air Marshal program at an annual amount of $479,000; 

* NTSB increased utilization of the training center’s classroom space 
and the associated revenues from course fees and renting classroom and 
conference space. From fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2007, NTSB 
increased utilization of classroom space from 10 to 13 percent, and 
increased revenues by over $160,000. NTSB officials expressed concerns 
with our calculation of utilization rates because they assumed that 
holiday weeks and other scheduling difficulties were not considered in 
the calculation. However, our analysis excluded holidays and Christmas 
week from the calculation; 

* NTSB is finalizing a sublease agreement with the Department of 
Homeland Security (DHS), which is expected to rent approximately one-
third of the classroom space beginning July 1, 2008. We estimate that 
this would help increase utilization of classroom space in fiscal year 
2008 to 24 percent; 

* NTSB is undertaking efforts to increase utilization of the training 
center’s large area that houses wreckage used for instructional 
purposes, including the reconstructed wreckage of TWA flight 800, by 
seeking to acquire additional wreckage for instructional purposes; 

* NTSB considered moving certain staff from headquarters to the 
training center, but halted these considerations upon subleasing all of 
the training center’s available office space; 

* NTSB decreased personnel expenses related to the training center, 
from about $980,000 in fiscal year 2005 to $470,000 in fiscal year 2007 
by reducing the center’s full-time equivalents from 8.5 to 3 over the 
same period. 

As a result of these efforts, from fiscal year 2005 to 2007, training 
center revenues increased 29 percent while the center’s overall deficit 
decreased by 41 percent. (Table 2 shows direct expenses and revenues 
for the training center in fiscal years 2004 through 2007.) In fiscal 
year 2007, training center revenues nearly covered the center’s 
operating expenses, not including lease costs. However, the salaries 
and other personnel-related expenses associated with NTSB investigators 
and managers teaching at the training center, which would be 
appropriate to include in training center costs, are not included. NTSB 
officials told us that they believe the investigators and managers 
teaching at the training center would be teaching at another location 
even if the training center did not exist. In 2006, we recommended that 
NTSB develop a full cost accounting system that would allow them to 
calculate these expenses. 

Table 2: Direct Expenses and Revenues for the NTSB Training Center, 
Fiscal Years 2004 through 2007 (unaudited): 

Expenses: Personnel related; 
Fiscal year 2004: $1,011,717; 
Fiscal year 2005: $978,591; 
Fiscal year 2006: $688,716; 
Fiscal year 2007: $466,582. 

Expenses: Travel; 
Fiscal year 2004: $24,428; 
Fiscal year 2005: $56,912; 
Fiscal year 2006: $31,009; 
Fiscal year 2007: $22,284. 

Expenses: Space rental[A]; 
Fiscal year 2004: $2,521,440; 
Fiscal year 2005: $2,500,896; 
Fiscal year 2006: $2,221,430; 
Fiscal year 2007: $2,286,660. 

Expenses: Maintenance/repair of buildings[B]; 
Fiscal year 2004: $706,279; 
Fiscal year 2005: $238,203; 
Fiscal year 2006: $23,151; 
Fiscal year 2007: ($4,215). 

Expenses: Contract services; 
Fiscal year 2004: $2,204,880; 
Fiscal year 2005: $558,540; 
Fiscal year 2006: $287,873; 
Fiscal year 2007: $330,491. 

Expenses: Miscellaneous expenses[C]; 
Fiscal year 2004: $42,258; 
Fiscal year 2005: $182,136; 
Fiscal year 2006: $57,099; 
Fiscal year 2007: $19,720. 

Total expenses: 
Fiscal year 2004: $6,511,003; 
Fiscal year 2005: $4,515,279; 
Fiscal year 2006: $3,309,277; 
Fiscal year 2007: $3,121,521. 

Total earned revenue[D]: 
Fiscal year 2004: $258,760; 
Fiscal year 2005: $634,800; 
Fiscal year 2006: $651,191; 
Fiscal year 2007: $817,555. 

Overall deficit: 
Fiscal year 2004: -$6,252,243; 
Fiscal year 2005: -$3,880,479; 
Fiscal year 2006: -$2,658,086; 
Fiscal year 2007: -$2,303,966. 

Deficit when space rental expense is excluded: 
Fiscal year 2004: -$3,730,803; 
Fiscal year 2005: -$1,379,583; 
Fiscal year 2006: -$436,656; 
Fiscal year 2007: -$17,306. 

Source: GAO analysis of information from NTSB. 

[A] NTSB leases the training center from George Washington University 
under a 20-year lease that will expire in 2021. 

[B] The amount reported in the maintenance and repair category during 
fiscal year 2007 includes a refund of $28,377 to NTSB because of the 
reconciliation of the utility costs, as required by the lease. 

[C] Miscellaneous expenses such as telephone, mail, photography 
services, printing, office supplies and equipment. 

[D] Earned revenue includes imputed fees for NTSB students. 

[End of table] 

However, even at the 24-percent utilization rate for fiscal year 2008 
that we estimate would result from the DHS sublease, the training 
center classroom space would still be underutilized. If NTSB does not 
finalize this agreement, we estimate that only 15 percent of classroom 
space would be utilized during the fiscal year. While we do not expect 
any classroom space ever to be 100 percent utilized, we believe a 60 
percent utilization rate for training center classrooms would be 
reasonable, based on our knowledge of similar facilities. Without a 
functional business plan, NTSB lacks a comprehensive strategy to 
address these challenges. 

[End of subsection] 

Recommendations Related to Information Security: 

Compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act 
(FISMA): 

What an Independent Auditor Found: In June 2007, NTSB reported that its 
information security program was a prior year material weakness 
[Footnote 20] that had not yet been corrected. [Footnote 21] An 
independent FISMA evaluation completed in September 2007 assessed 
NTSB’s actions to address recommendations in prior year FISMA reports. 
[Footnote 22] The independent auditors reported that while NTSB 
continues to be in material non-compliance with FISMA, it had taken 
substantive corrective actions to address the material information 
security weaknesses identified in prior FISMA reports issued by the 
Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General. Overall, the 
independent auditor reported that the corrective actions it observed, 
those underway or planned, if implemented timely and effectively, would 
further strengthen NTSB's information security program. 

The assessment completed in September 2007 found that NTSB met two 
requirements of FISMA: 1) having in place policies and procedures to 
reduce risks to an acceptable level and 2) ensuring that the agency has 
adequately trained its personnel in IT security practices. However, 
NTSB partially met or did not meet FISMA and NIST requirements in the 
following six areas: 1) providing periodic assessments of risk, 2) 
documenting policies and procedures based on risk assessments, 3) 
developing and maintaining an IT security program, 4) periodically 
testing security controls, 5) carrying out remedial actions, and 6) 
having in place plans and procedures for continuity of operations. 

What an Independent Auditor Recommended: Assure that the Chief 
Information Officer monitors all key corrective actions and provides 
necessary funding and human resources to accomplish these actions so 
that no further delays occur. 

Our Assessment of NTSB’s Progress: The agency has made progress in 
implementing this recommendation. For example, the Chief Information 
Officer has documented prior recommendations and newly identified 
vulnerabilities in a plan of action and milestones and is monitoring 
corrective actions to implement the recommendations and mitigate the 
vulnerabilities. Nevertheless, NTSB needs to take further actions to 
meet FISMA, OMB, and NIST guidance in the following four areas to help 
ensure an effective information security program: 

* Risk assessments: Agencies are required to periodically assess the 
harm that could result if their information and information systems 
suffered unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, 
modification, or destruction. NTSB has completed a risk assessment of 
its general support system in February 2008. The general support system 
is an interconnected set of information resources, and it supports the 
agency’s two major applications. In addition, a contract has been 
awarded to complete the risk assessments for the two major 
applications—the Accident Investigation System and the Lab Environment 
System, both of which the agency plans to complete by the end of 
September 2008. Until it assesses the risks associated with these two 
applications, NTSB cannot determine that the controls it has 
implemented for these two applications cost-effectively reduce risk to 
an acceptable level. 

* Information security planning: To ensure effective security 
protection of information resources, agencies must develop plans 
describing how they will provide security for their systems, networks, 
and facilities. According to NIST, the security plan is to provide, 
among other things, an overview of the security requirements of the 
system and describe the controls that are in place or planned for 
meeting those requirements. NTSB has completed the security plan for 
the general support system, but development of security plans for its 
two major applications are not scheduled to be developed until after 
April 2008. Until these plans are completed, NTSB will not have in 
place a documented, structured process for adequate, cost-effective 
security protection for these systems. 

* Periodic testing: Information security policies, procedures, 
practices, and controls should be tested periodically to ensure their 
effectiveness. These tests and evaluations should be conducted at least 
annually and include testing of the management, operational, and 
technical controls of every system identified in the systems inventory. 
In 2007, NTSB hired a contractor to perform a security test and 
evaluation of its general support system. The contractor identified 113 
information security vulnerabilities, which collectively increased the 
risk of unauthorized disclosure and modification of agency information. 
NTSB has documented these vulnerabilities in a plan of action and 
milestones. According to NTSB officials, they have resolved many of the 
vulnerabilities, and are currently addressing the remaining ones. 
Because NTSB has not finished addressing the vulnerabilities identified 
in the security test and evaluation of its general support system, the 
agency cannot ensure that the controls it has in place are commensurate 
with an acceptable level of risk. 

* Continuity of operations plan: To ensure that, in the event of an 
emergency, interim measures are available to restore critical systems, 
including arrangements for alternative processing facilities in case 
the usual facilities are significantly damaged or cannot be accessed, 
agencies must develop, document, and test contingency plans and 
procedures. Testing the continuity plan is essential to determining 
whether plans will function as intended in an emergency. A contingency 
plan for the general support system is under review by agency 
officials; and, according to these officials, this contingency plan 
also supports its two major applications and is part of the overall 
agency continuity of operations plan. However, the plan has not yet 
been approved or tested. Without an approved plan that has been tested, 
NTSB has limited assurance that it will be able to protect its 
information and information systems and resume operations promptly when 
unexpected events or unplanned interruptions occur. 

Access controls—Access Authorities: 

What an Independent Auditor Found: The independent auditor identified 
several weaknesses in NTSB’s access controls. Specifically, NTSB did 
not promptly remove system access privileges for 28 individuals who had 
left the agency, was unable to provide documentation to support the 
original access granted to employees in most instances, did not have a 
process to determine the specific access authorities assigned to users 
for the general support system, had not performed the required annual 
review of users’ access authorities for the general support system, and 
did not implement a control to require the system to automatically 
disable inactive accounts after a period of non-use. The independent 
auditor noted that as a result of these weaknesses, the agency did not 
effectively implement the control processes required in its policies 
and in NIST guidance. 

What an Independent Auditor Recommended: The independent auditor made 
five recommendations to improve access controls at NTSB. 

1. Take immediate action to remove the access authorities from all NTSB 
systems for the 28 personnel who are no longer employed by or work for 
NTSB. Strengthen procedures for removing users’ access for interns, 
contractors, and executive training personnel who leave the agency. 

2. Maintain documentation supporting the initial access granted to a 
user. 

3. Develop a process to identify the specific systems, and within these 
systems, the specific access authorities granted to each general 
support system user, to enable user’s supervisors and system owners to 
properly analyze and complete the annual recertification of users’ 
access authorities. 

4. Develop a more detailed operational procedure to guide system 
security officers and system owners in the process of recertification 
of users. This should include: (1) specific dates for the review, (2) 
requirements that documentation be retained to show the recertification 
by the users’ supervisors, and (3) actions that system security 
officers should take to remove or modify a user’s access to the system, 
based on the review. 

5. Implement a control to automatically suspend an account after a 
period of nonuse, as required. 

Our Assessment of NTSB’s Progress: The NTSB has taken important steps 
to improve the controls that safeguard access to its systems, but has 
not completed actions on all related recommendations. Specifically, 
NTSB removed the accounts of 28 personnel who left the agency. The 
agency has procured and in some cases begun to implement automated 
software tools to help implement recommendations related to granting, 
removing, and recertifying users’ access permissions. However, agency 
officials expect that these tools will be fully implemented in fiscal 
year 2008. Furthermore, NTSB has not yet completed identifying, for 
each system, the specific access permissions for each user and has not 
yet completed implementing a control to automatically suspend an 
account after a period of nonuse. 

Privacy Act—Privacy Act Compliance: 

What an Independent Auditor Found: The independent auditor determined 
that NTSB did not comply with OMB requirements for implementing 
provisions of the Privacy Act. OMB Memorandum M-03-22 requires an 
agency to conduct privacy impact assessments for electronic information 
systems and collections and to make these assessments available to the 
public. The review found that NTSB had not issued sufficient written 
guidance in this area and had not conducted a privacy impact assessment 
of its information systems. In addition, the agency is required to 
report annually to OMB on compliance with sections 207 and 208 of the E-
government Act. NTSB did not have available any guidance in this area, 
and had not issued the required annual reports. Furthermore, NTSB did 
not conduct an OMB-required review of its privacy policies and 
processes to ensure it has adequate controls to prevent the intentional 
or negligent misuse of or unauthorized access to personally 
identifiable information. 

What an Independent Auditor Recommended: Assure actions are taken to 
meet the requirements of the Privacy Act and the requirements contained 
in related OMB memoranda and to update the plan of action and 
milestones to reflect the current status of NTSB actions in these 
areas. 

Our Assessment of NTSB’s Progress: The agency has updated its plan of 
action and milestones to reflect the status of its corrective actions 
to implement the requirements of the Privacy Act. In addition, agency 
officials have recently taken action to develop a formal privacy 
program; however, work remains before it is fully compliant with the 
requirements of the Privacy Act. For example, NTSB completed privacy 
impact assessments on two of its public facing applications and stated 
that it plans to complete assessments for other applications and 
systems such as the accident investigation system. Furthermore, the 
agency is currently drafting a Systems of Records Notice, as required 
by OMB, which will, among other things, inform the public of the 
existence of records containing personal information and give 
individuals access to those records. The agency expects to have the 
Systems of Records Notice finalized in June 2008. Moreover, NTSB 
recently awarded a contract to a vendor to develop specific training to 
its employees on Privacy Act requirements. The agency expects this 
training to be available in June 2008. 

[End of subsection] 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] GAO, National Transportation Safety Board: Progress Made, Yet 
Management Practices, Investigation Priorities, and Training Center Use 
Should Be Improved. GAO-07-118 (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 22, 2006). 

[2] The National Transportation Safety Board Reauthorization Act of 
2006 (P.L. 109-443) requires GAO to conduct an annual review of NTSB. 

[3] The training center contains a large area that houses reconstructed 
wreckage from TWA 800, damaged aircraft, and other wreckage. 

[4] The Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 (FISMA) 
requires that each agency shall have performed an independent 
evaluation of the information security program and practices of that 
agency to determine their effectiveness. Agencies that do not have an 
Inspector General, such as the National Transportation Safety Board 
(NTSB), shall engage an independent external auditor to perform the 
evaluation. NTSB contracted with Leon Snead & Company to perform the 
independent external audit. See Leon Snead & Company, P.C., National 
Transportation Safety Board: Compliance with the Requirements of the 
Federal Information Security Management Act, Fiscal Year 2007 (Sept. 
24, 2007). The audit, which was performed for fiscal year 2007 and 
submitted to OMB, as required by FISMA, identified weaknesses in NTSB's 
compliance with FISMA requirements and included an assessment of the 
agency's actions to address recommendations in prior year FISMA 
reports. Those prior reports include U.S. Department of Transportation, 
Office of Inspector General, Information Security Program: National 
Transportation Safety Board, Report No. FI-2006-001 (Washington, D.C.: 
Oct. 7, 2005); and Information Security Program: National 
Transportation Safety Board, Report No. FI-2007-001 (Washington, D.C.: 
Oct. 13, 2006). 

[5] P.L. 103-62. 

[6] The two mission areas are (1) the performance of fair and objective 
airman and mariner certification appeals and (2) the assistance of 
victims of transportation accidents and their families. 

[7] Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, 
recognized for its expertise in software and system processes, has 
developed the Capability Maturity Model® Integration (CMMIsm) and a 
CMMI appraisal methodology to evaluate, improve, and manage system and 
software development processes. The CMMI model and appraisal 
methodology provide a logical framework for measuring and improving key 
processes needed for achieving quality software and systems. 

[8] In workforce deployment, it is important to have human capital 
strategies to avoid excessive organizational layers and to properly 
balance supervisory and nonsupervisory positions. 

[9] These principles were discussed in: GAO, Executive Agency 
Management Diagnostic Survey (draft). 

[10] Work on human capital management has shown the importance for 
agencies to develop a strategic approach to training their workforce, 
which involves establishing training priorities and leveraging 
investments in training to achieve agency results; identifying specific 
training initiatives that improve individual and agency performance; 
ensuring the effective and efficient delivery of training opportunities 
in an environment that supports learning and change; and demonstrating 
how training efforts contribute to improved performance and results. 

[11] We further recommended that NTSB maximize the delivery of its 
investigator core curriculum at the training center, which is discussed 
later in this testimony. 

[12] An individual development plan is a written plan, cooperatively 
prepared by the employee and his or her supervisor that outlines the 
steps the employee will take to develop knowledge, skills, and 
abilities in building on strengths and addressing weaknesses as he or 
she seeks to improve job performance and pursue career goals. 

[13] GAO, Human Capital: A Guide for Assessing Strategic Training and 
Development Efforts in the Federal Government, GAO-04-546G (Washington, 
D.C.: Mar. 2004). 

[14] GAO, Decision of the Comptroller General of the United States, B-
309715, September 25, 2007, National Transportation Safety 
Board—Insurance for Employees Traveling on Official Business. 

[15] H.R. 2881. 

[16] NTSB conducts all of its marine, rail, pipeline, hazardous 
material, and highway accident investigations at the scene of the 
accident. In contrast, for aviation accidents, NTSB conducts on-scene 
investigations of major accidents and more limited investigations of 
accidents not designated as major. NTSB defines a major accident as one 
that involves an issue related to a current safety study or special 
investigation, impacts public confidence or transportation safety in a 
significant way, or is catastrophic. 

[17] On December 21, 2006, Congress passed Public Law 109-443, 
requiring NTSB to prepare a utilization plan for the training center 
and submit the plan to us for review and comment within 90 days of 
passage of the act. 

[18] In our 2007 review of NTSB’s draft business plan, we recommended 
that NTSB revise its business plan to included detailed statements of 
net costs, balance sheets, and cash flow statements for 3 historical 
and 5 forecast years. 

[19] Rider 1 of NTSB’s lease with George Washington University limits 
subleases and assignments to other agencies of the federal government. 
NTSB’s General Counsel believes the lessor interprets the lease as 
limiting building use to (1) a government purpose that is 
transportation-related, educational, or a government administrative 
function, or (2) a use that is affiliated with the lessor. 

[20] U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General, 
Information Security Program: National Transportation Safety Board, 
Report No. FI-2006-001 (Washington, D.C.; Oct. 7, 2005); and 
Information Security Program: National Transportation Safety Board, 
Report No. FI-2007-001 (Washington, D.C.; Oct. 13, 2006). See also Leon 
Snead & Company, P.C., National Transportation Safety Board: Fiscal 
Year 2007. 

[21] National Transportation Safety Board, Correspondence to President 
Bush, June 30, 2007. 

[22] Leon Snead & Company, P.C., National Transportation Safety Board: 
Fiscal Year 2007. 

[End of section] 

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U.S. Government Accountability Office: 
441 G Street NW, Room 7125: 
Washington, D.C. 20548: 

Public Affairs: 

Chuck Young, Managing Director, youngc1@gao.gov: 
(202) 512-4800: 
U.S. Government Accountability Office: 
441 G Street NW, Room 7149: 
Washington, D.C. 20548: