Internal Boeing documents obtained by the Project On Government Oversight show that the allegations of a former Boeing quality control inspector facing criminal charges have merit. Quality control problems at Boeing increase the likelihood that defective aircraft parts end up on planes and flaws in the manufacturing of planes remain uncorrected. This can potentially threaten public safety and drive up the cost of aircraft maintenance. These documents are linked at the bottom of this release.
Gerald Eastman, the former Boeing inspector, is facing a second trial of criminal charges for disclosing Boeing information to the press. His first trial last month resulted in a mistrial when jurors could not agree on whether Eastman committed "computer trespass." Mr. Eastman claims that his involvement with the press stemmed from the lack of corrective actions taken by Boeing and the government in response to his disclosures of wrongdoing to them.
An internal Boeing memo sent to Boeing employees in October 2000 stated that misuse of "production stamps" or "roller-stamping" can result in negative consequences for the company and the individual misusing their stamp. Roller-stamping is the misuse of production stamps to stamp work on critical parts and assemblies as complete and fully inspected when there has only been a cursory inspection, if one at all, of the part or assembly in question. Eastman's central claim is that he had perceived widespread "roller-stamping" and Boeing did little to curtail the practice.
"These documents show that Eastman clearly had a reasonable basis for his belief roller-stamping was occurring," according to Nick Schwellenbach, POGO investigator. "It's one thing to break company policy on releasing documents and getting fired, it's another matter to file criminal charges. Who do the prosecutors work for?"
The Boeing memo came months after the Federal Aviation Agency conducted a special technical audit of Boeing that concluded that there were systemic quality control problems. The 2000 FAA special technical audit found "in some cases, manufacturing planning was not adequate, requirements were not followed, inspections were not specific, or personnel were not knowledgeable about requirements." Thus, "parts, assemblies, and installations are released through the system that do not conform" to approved designs. Also, in 2000, the FAA proposed "a record $1.24 million in civil penalties against Boeing for inadequate supplier oversight and for failing to quickly report cracked parts on two older jetliners," according to a news report (James Wallace, "FAA Audit Rips Boeing Over 100 Production, Design Problems Detailed; Company Plans Corrective Action," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 11, 2000.).
Years later, roller-stamping was still occurring when Eastman acted on his concerns.
Boeing certainly was aware of the practice because a Boeing document dated January 2004, states that, "There appears to be a systemic issue within BCA [Boeing Commercial Aircraft] involving parallel process breakdowns of mechanics and inspectors involved in assembling and inspecting aircraft, assemblies and parts." The 2004 document also states that the FAA examined 55 issues at Boeing between 2002 and 2003 and found that "24% of these issues have involved instances where the mechanic and inspector created and accepted nonconforming conditions"—i.e. roller-stamping.
In further support of Eastman's claims, other Boeing employees became whistleblowers when they reported that Boeing supplier Ducommun was regularly supplying non-conforming parts to Boeing, according to the whistleblowers' False Claims Act lawsuit obtained by POGO. Now-former Boeing employees Taylor Smith, Jeannine Prewitt and James Ailes were then retaliated against by management because Boeing allegedly did not want to deal with the repercussions of their findings.
For additional information
Boeing Commercial Airplane Group memorandum, "Use of personal stamps in our production system," October 31, 2000.
Federal Aviation Administration, "Special Technical Audit of Boeing Commercial Airplane Group," December 1, 1999, through February 11, 2000.
Boeing Airplane Program Systemic Issues Chartered Team 1, "Investigation of 'Dual Failures,'" January 2004.
United States of America ex rel Taylor Smith, Jeannine Prewitt and James Ailes vs. The Boeing Company and Ducommun, Inc., Federal District Court of Kansas. Filed on March 11, 2005.