The Transportation Department is establishing a permanent "safety auditors" office with 10 full-time staff positions and a $500,000 annual budget to oversee safety issues involving the agencies that it controls.

The office grew out of a safety review task force established in 1983 by then-transportation secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole and directed by a Dole aide, Carolina L. Mederos, who will also head the new office.

Its first assignment is to sort out more than 200 safety recommendations made by the task force, said Wendy DeMocker, a department spokeswoman. Among them are 66 recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration regarding airport security -- some of which have been put into effect by the FAA.

The office will also oversee safety issues involving rail, highway and mass transit systems, transportation of hazardous materials and the Coast Guard.

"For several years, the department has had a safety review task force which has operated successfully as an ad hoc group," Transportation Secretary James H. Burnley said in a statement. "I believe now it is time to establish a permanent office so that safety issues will continue to get the priority treatment they deserve."

Before taking over the task force, Mederos headed the department's Office of Programs and Evaluations for five years. She joined the department in 1976 as a program analyst.