Report: FAA Needs To Heed Whistleblowers

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The FAA needs to do a better job of overseeing safety lapses among air traffic controllers and other employees, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel said on Tuesday. The office, which investigates complaints from whistleblowers, said the FAA and the Transportation Department have repeatedly failed to take "timely corrective action" in response to such complaints. "The public properly expects zero tolerance for unnecessary risks," said Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner. Among the complaints cited by Lerner were inadequate oversight that allowed emergency-service helicopters to fly with improperly installed night-vision systems, imprecise language used by air traffic controllers in the greater New York area that resulted in a near-collision, and ATC clearances issued without proper wake-turbulence separation.

The FAA has one of the highest rates of whistleblower filings per employee of any executive branch agency, the Office of Special Counsel said (PDF). Since 2007, the office has received 178 whistleblower disclosures from FAA employees, 89 of which related to aviation safety. The OSC referred 44 of those to the DOT for investigation, and the DOT ultimately substantiated all but five of those referrals -- 89 percent -- in whole or in part. In several cases, the whistleblower had to make repeat disclosures with the OSC because the FAA took inadequate steps to correct the concern or failed to implement any corrective action. "Preventive measures could be far more effective if the Department of Transportation listened to its own employees' alarm bells and acted on them promptly," said Lerner.