Holding the Government Accountable

Oberstar Pushes Stronger FAA Whistleblower Office

Yesterday, the bipartisan leadership of the House transportation committee and its aviation subcommittee introduced legislation that would create a new independent Aviation Safety Whistleblower Investigation Office and institute a two-year cooling off period for former FAA inspectors. These changes are in response to the April 3rd hearing on the excessively cozy relationship between Southwest Airlines and the FAA's Dallas office.

FAA whistleblowers were retaliated against for seeking Southwest's compliance with mandatory inspections. The revolving door between Southwest and FAA likely contributed to the lax enforcement -- former FAA inspectors cashed in on relationships with their old office to soften oversight and some of the current FAA employees may have gone along as they envisioned a lucrative future at Southwest.

A description of the bill's highlights from Chairman James Oberstar's office:

  • Creates an independent Aviation Safety Whistleblower Investigation Office within the FAA, charged with receiving safety complaints and information submitted by both FAA employees and employees of certificated entities, investigating them, and then recommending appropriate corrective actions to the FAA.
  • Directs the FAA to modify its customer service initiative, mission and vision statements and other statements of policy to remove air carriers or other entities regulated by the agency as "customers," to clarify that in regulating safety the only customers of the agency are individuals traveling on aircraft, and to clarify that the air carriers and other entities regulated by the agency do not have the right to select the employees of the Agency who will inspect their operations.
  • Establishes a two-year "post-service" cooling off period for FAA inspectors or persons responsible for oversight of FAA inspectors before they can act an agent or representative before the agency of a certificate holder that they oversaw during their service with the FAA.
  • Requires the FAA to rotate principle maintenance inspectors between airline oversight offices every five years.
  • Requires the FAA to implement monthly reviews of the Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS) database to ensure that trends in regulatory compliance are identified and appropriate corrective actions are taken in accordance with agency regulations.

Whistleblowers such as former Boeing quality assurance inspector Gerald Eastman would have benefited from a working, competent and independent whistleblower office at FAA.