Al Kamen's June 14 In the Loop column [Federal Page] gave near slanderous treatment to Bob Francis, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
Bob Francis led the NTSB teams that investigated the ValuJet crash in the Florida Everglades in May 1996 and the explosion of TWA Flight 800 over Long Island Sound two months later. His briefings at each accident site offered the world the latest information as well as a dispassionate, accurate, technical analysis of these events and the investigations into each.
Mr. Francis spent 10 days on the scene of the ValuJet tragedy and 40 days on-site following the TWA 800 crash, plus another 42 days in field hearings and meetings related to the tragedy. He conducted 96 press briefings during the TWA 800 investigation, sometimes holding two a day. He met with families of the French victims in Paris and conducted a news conference afterward in French.
Mr. Kamen's column painted Bob Francis as a globe-trotting bureaucrat who holds a largely symbolic post and makes only token appearances at NTSB meetings.
First, besides holding the vice chairmanship, Mr. Francis is a full voting member of the board, with the same duties and powers as any board member. Second, the board holds about 15 meetings a year, and Mr. Francis has missed no more than two each year since his appointment. Most recently, he was absent from the May 11 meeting because he was in New Orleans leading NTSB's investigation into the Custom Bus Tours accident.
Third, Bob Francis does travel to international destinations to work with the governments of Italy, Costa Rica, the Philippines, Taiwan and Romania on setting up their own accident investigation boards based on the NTSB model. The trip to Nepal Mr. Kamen mentions was to lend NTSB support on a recent aircraft accident there. The stop in London was to address a two-day international conference on airline safety.
Finally, Mr. Kamen writes that Bob Francis "is not known to sit in the cheap seats" -- a point to concede, with a twist. Although Mr. Francis usually flies on a coach ticket, he normally sits up front -- in the jump seat right behind the pilot. There he can observe cockpit procedures, monitor air traffic control radio frequencies and better understand the subject he is charged with investigating.
Bob Francis is a hard-working professional and an internationally recognized expert in transportation safety. He does not deserve the treatment given him by the Al Kamen column.
JAMES L. OBERSTAR
U.S. Representative (D-Minn)
The writer is the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.