In the course of discussing the president's proposed budget cuts a few days ago, I mentioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The CPSC costs each of us only 21 cents a year, but the administration would like to cut this by 6 cents.
Six cents for each of 227 million people comes to more than $13 million -- a substantial sum, even in these profligate times, but not exactly the stuff of which balanced budgets are made.
It was for this reason that I wrote that I think there is need for a federal agency charged with monitoring the safety of consumer products, and that I think the cost of this monitoring is reasonable.
When Ira J. Furman, a public affairs officer for the National Transportation Safety Board, read my comments, he couldn't resist one wistful comment of his own. "Our entire budget is only 8 cents per American," he noted.
I hadn't realized that. But I did know that NTSB's role in safety is just as obvious as CPSC's.
By direct congressional mandate, NTSB is responsible for investigation of major transportation accidents in aviation, rail, marine, highway and pipeline modes. Congress deliberately gave the board no regulatory power so that it would have no regulations (or "turf") to defend and would be able to conduct independent, objective investigations of accidents. Quite frequently, NTSB criticizes other government agencies such as aviation, highway and railroad administrations, or even the Coast Guard.
After determing the probable cause of an accident, the safety board issues safety recommendations to parties such as the regulatory agency, the transportation company involved, or the manufacturer of the equipment.
In some instances in which a safety problem is apparent, the board may issue a recommendation even before the cause of an accident is determined. Such was the case recently when the board called for the inspection of ball joints on buses following the Virginia bus crash that killed 11 people.
What do you get for your 8 cents a year? Well, do you ever travel in a plane? Last year the NTSB investigated 940 aviation accidents and issued more than 100 recommendations designed to make air travel safer. Do you ever travel by train? Last year, the board sent investigative teams to 13 major rail accidents and conducted field-office investigations of 526 other rail accidents. Do you ever travel by auto? Last year, 51,900 Americans lost their lives in auto crashes. By studing a significant number of those tragedies, NTSB was able to formulate 79 highway safety recommendations that were forwarded to the appropriate federal, state and local governments as well as to private agencies. The board's laboratory work in searching out the causes of accidents has become world renowned.
In doing these things and many others that cannot be detailed in this brief space, the safety board spent $18.5 million last year -- or, as noted before, about 8 cents for each of us.
Did it manage its money frugally? Perhaps you can use this to form a quick judgment: Each of the five presidentially appointed members of the board has one assistant. One.
Neither the managing director nor his deputy has a secretary.
I have the impression that this is another of the agencies that Mr. Reagan might think it wise to keep functioning at its present level.
When the airliner I am aboard begins to bank for is approach to the landing strip, I would be willing to pay not merely 8 cents but perhaps even as much as a dime for reassurance that an effective transportation safety agency is on the job.