WASHINGTON -- For the National Transportation Safety Board, the spotlight of publicity is the only real power it has to force changes meant to prevent accidents. The Navy can order changes but would rather wait until the facts are in before talking about results.
The contrasting approaches are starkly evident in the agencies' separate investigations into how a U.S. submarine hit and sank a Japanese fishing vessel.
"It's more a matter of different cultures," said Michele Flournoy, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. "The military tends to want to have the whole story and make sure they have the story right before they go public. The NTSB has a different culture: Even when you don't have much to say, say something."
NTSB officials say their credibility lies in a willingness to conduct investigations in the open, sharing information with the public as it develops.
"The strength of our ability to actively improve transportation safety is based on our reputation for openness, evenhandedness and technical accuracy," agency spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said. "The way to do that is to make your investigation as transparent as possible."
Former NTSB Chairman Jim Hall acknowledged tensions may arise between the board and the military during investigations.
"The best procedure is to cooperate with the investigative agency and provide all the information," Hall said.
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