DFW Fudging ATC Operational Error Rates?

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The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) late last week directed DOT Secretary Mary Peters to investigate allegations by air traffic controllers at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport that management has covered up ATC operational errors at the facility. According to the OSC, air traffic controller Anne Whiteman told the special counsel in 2004 that managers at the DFW TRACON routinely covered up operational errors by not properly investigating and reporting them as required by FAA policy. Making it even worse, Whiteman said she was reprimanded by her managers and harassed by coworkers because of the disclosure. In February 2005, the DOT Inspector General reported that her whistleblowing had resulted in the exposure of a seven-year management practice of underreporting operational errors. The report noted that FAA officials considered the underreporting to be very serious and had begun corrective actions. In recent disclosures made by Whiteman and an unidentified whistleblower alleged that FAA personnel at DFW are routinely identifying operational errors as pilot errors. The FAA maintains that all controller errors are being correctly reported and said its inspectors recently visited the airport. In some cases, the whistleblowers say that managers have improperly interpreted FAA orders and directives to cover up operational errors. "We had been led to believe that her disclosures and the inspector general's final report had taken care of the problem," said U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch. "Instead, matters got worse, and we believe the trend to blame pilots for what are really errors by air traffic controllers resulted from a push by FAA top management to reduce the number of operational errors." He noted that the whistleblowers disclosures reflect a problem that could be national in scope.