Policy Letter

Letter from POGO to congressional transportation committees on FAA and manufacturer oversight of suppliers

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Dirksen Senate Office Building 508

Washington, DC 20510-6125

Majority/Minority Fax: (202) 228-0303 / (202) 224-1259

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

Rayburn House Office Building 2165

Washington, DC 20515

Majority/Minority Fax: (202) 226-1270 / (202) 225-6782

Dear Chairman Inouye and Ranking Member Stevens:

Dear Chairman Oberstar and Ranking Member Mica:

As you are no doubt aware, the Transportation Department Inspector General (IG) released a report last week that has raised serious concerns regarding the integrity of quality control in aviation manufacturing. We at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) believe that this subject merits attention from your committee, including public hearings.

The report is an in-depth review of the quality control system used by the suppliers, the major aerospace companies, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The IG even identified numerous instances where these systemic failures allowed defective parts to make their way onto planes, some of these parts even failed in flight. Though industry and the FAA have offered public assurances that they are addressing problems identified by the IG, some of their statements have been highly disturbing.

In response to a CNN segment on the IG report, the FAA deflected criticism, rather than embracing the findings as constructive. According to the CNN transcript:

In a conference call with CNN officials from the FAA made it clear final responsibility rests with the companies. Quote, “Safety in aviation first and foremost rests with the manufacturers, not the Federal Aviation Administration. Courts have made that clear.”

Those same officials also said they're satisfied with the way the companies assure the quality of parts, noting that an inspector general's report is never positive and always harsh in tone.

The FAA’s response is misleading since they are the government entity responsible for overseeing the manufacturers.

Despite numerous cited instances of defective parts making their way onto planes, some even failing in flight due to quality control problems, the FAA simply sought to minimize the safety concerns raised. To the Washington Post, FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette said, “There are absolutely no imminent safety issues raised by the report.”

This mirrors previous statements the FAA has made in response to previous IG reports. For example, a 2003 IG report on weak oversight of airplane maintenance found “potentially fatal malfeasance at 85 percent of the facilities it checked,” as Air Safety Week put it, since the IG found numerous serious problems in maintenance work that were the same kinds of problems that have led to previous plane crashes. In response, then-FAA administrator Marion Blakey said, “There's no data in the report to support a safety issue.”

Earlier in 2000, the IG performed an audit very similar to the one just released, but narrower in scope: the quality control of fasteners used in the manufacture and upkeep of planes. After encountering numerous delays and denials of the IG's lab-based findings from the FAA, the IG noted in its report that evidence suggested a “systemic weakness in FAA's process to evaluate safety issues brought to the agency's attention.”

Especially given the FAA's pattern of nonchalance, delays and often inaction, this important topic offers an excellent opportunity for your committee to oversee the executive branch’s oversight of one major part of the aviation safety system.

Furthermore, POGO would be more than happy to assist as we are aware of some significant issues of public interest that are excellent illustrations of systemic problems in quality control assurance.

For instance, POGO has been presented with very serious and credible allegations that a major supplier of materials used in the domestic and foreign manufacturing of composite components of commercial and military aircraft has been engaged in widespread fraud and product substitution for at least a decade. Numerous government entities and major aerospace companies have been aware of these claims for several years, yet no discernable action has been undertaken against this company for its alleged activities. POGO has reasons to believe these allegations have been substantiated to a large degree already by government investigators; regardless, no action seems to have been taken. If these allegations have merit, this company has allowed its profit motive to trump the safety of civilians and men and women in uniform, and that of the best interests of its government and corporate customers.

Please contact me or POGO investigator Nick Schwellenbach at (202) 347-1122 if you need further information.


Danielle Brian, Executive Director

Project On Government Oversight (POGO)