A Pre-AirVenture Interview with Jane Garvey

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On Monday, July 26, AVweb conducted a telephone interview with FAA Administrator Jane Garvey. She'll be at OSH on Sunday, but AVweb wanted to chat with her to help both AirVenture attendees and Mrs. Garvey herself better understand some of the issues facing general aviation, some of the questions she'll be asked and the answers we'll hear. Here's what's on the FAA Administrator's mind today.

AVweb: How are you, Mrs. Garvey?

GARVEY: I'm very good, very, very well, thank you. I'm looking forward to Oshkosh.

AVweb: We're looking forward to seeing you.

GARVEY: Thanks. The secretary is joining us this year, which is a nice treat, and I believe Congressman [Todd] Tiarht (R-KS) [the Congressman from Wichita — Ed.] is also coming. He has a very strong interest, as you probably know, in general aviation. We're delighted that he's joining us as well.

AVweb: Terrific. When do you get in?

GARVEY: We are coming in Sunday morning.

AVweb: On N1?

GARVEY: I think so, yes. We're still making the final plans, some of it's determined by the number of people, but it looks like a full plane.

AVweb: Good. We want to see you fly GA more.

GARVEY: So do I, by the way. It's a little easier when you've been at the job a little bit longer.

AVweb: Jeb [Burnside, AVweb's executive editor] and I have spent part of the morning trying to decide how we wanted to use our half hour with you. By the way, thank you very much for taking the time to do this, we hope we can maybe spend a little bit more time over the weekend

GARVEY: Yes, this is really just the first part, I'd be happy to do that.

AVweb: We came up with these long lists of questions and decided the best way to use this time was to ask you one essay question instead of a lot of multiple-choice questions and see where it goes. I'll just lead off with it. And the essay question is basically, what's wrong with the FAA?

GARVEY: What's wrong with the FAA?

AVweb: What's wrong with it. So you can go lots of different ways with this one, but let me tell you what we have in mind. We made a list of some of the notable events that occurred over the last year or so that stuck out in our minds as being things that shouldn't have happened. We started the list, which was not really fair, with the Bob Hoover medical thing. That really predates your tenure, but it was certainly really high-profile. If you recall this time a year ago, we were talking about the thing that happened with Bill Bainbridge that you interceded in and got sorted out. We were talking about the ticket program, which caused a big hue and cry and you interceded and got that sorted out. More recently there was the counsel's office ruling on drug testing for charity flights, which everybody seemed to agree was not really a good interpretation: Nobody but the attorneys thought it was a really good idea.

The interpretive rule on readbacks was a similar thing that generated a fair amount of heat in the user community. Another item on our list — I'm not even sure if you've been involved in it — was a program that we thought was a pretty innovative program that Atlanta Center came up with called "Catch a Bad Altitude" which had a few things wrong with it, but they fixed it, and then it appears that the counsel's office has gotten involved and said, hey you guys can't go off and do stuff like that on your own, that sort of thing has to be coordinated at headquarters, and so on. And finally, one that's near and dear to my heart, which we have communicated about very recently, is the twin Cessna exhaust AD, where an AD came within about 24 hours of going direct to final rule under what I think are circumstances where everyone seems to agree that shouldn't have happened.

And so we look over this list of things, they cover a lot of territory, they're in various areas, but we were looking for common threads as to what does the fact that these sorts of things have been happening, what does that say about what's wrong with the system, that this sort of thing continues to happen and that it winds up getting escalated to your office and getting solved in a firefighting way but the same sort of things continue to happen and probably will continue to happen in the future unless some systemic changes are made.

We have some ideas of what we think the common threads are, but we'd like to hear what you think. What is all this symptomatic of, and what can be done about it — before your tenure is up and somebody else who may be less accessible or less responsive than you've been takes over the job?

GARVEY: Okay, first of all, I'm happy to make some comments, and I like this kind of interview, I think it's an interesting way to kind of explore some larger issues. But let me just say let's be sure and leave time for me to hear what your ideas are, because I would love to do that.

AVweb: Okay.

GARVEY: First of all, there's a lot that is right, and a lot that I think if we look at the relationship with the GA community in particular, I think we've made some really terrific strides over the last couple of years. The "Safer Skies" agenda, the regular meetings with the GA community to really shape that agenda in a way that makes sense both to them and the FAA, has been enormously productive. I think the work we've done in the area of weather with the GA community has been very, very productive. We are streamlining some of our procedures in Flight Standards and certification, and again, those streamlinings really grew out of conversations and communication with the GA community. So I think there are some successes. We had a wonderful discussion last week about what's a goal that makes sense in terms of reduction of accidents, in terms of reduction of fatalities for the GA community, and hearing the perspective of people who have lived and breathed general aviation was just enormously helpful in those discussions.

So I would say that from my perspective one of the key themes, I think, one of the values that I hold near and dear, is the whole issue of communication. I think the best work that we do occurs when we are communicating very directly and very frequently with the community that we serve and the community that we work with, and that includes general aviation. So when I look at our successes over the last couple of years, it is definitely, as I think even some of the examples that you've given show, it definitely has occurred when communication has been the strongest.

So I think we've produced some good things when we've sat down and we've talked it through and we've identified issues and worked together on them. And from my perspective, I think that's one of the most important legacies that I can leave, is to leave in place some people who feel exactly as I do about the need to communicate. I'm really pleased with some of the people that have joined the FAA in the last couple of years, and some of the ones who have been there but are now in other positions, sometimes in higher positions, someone like Steve Brown, who did such a great job last week at the hearing, in talking about weather and general aviation, his background in general aviation has been terrific. Nick Lacy, who as we sat last week and talked about some issues that were happening in flight standards could bring the perspective of someone who'd been in the industry. That was enormously helpful as well. Tom McSweeney, who's been part of this agency for a number of years but has spent an enormous amount of time in his new position just getting out and talking to people. So I think that's really important, putting some people in place who see the real value in communication and in working with our constituent group.

We had a wonderful retreat about two weeks ago and the whole theme was credibility — the credibility of the agency with the industry, the credibility of the agency with the public, the credibility of the agency with Congress, and the credibility of the agency even with ourselves, even with our own employees. There were some very, very tough discussions, very tough discussions, and I think really to a person in that group, the management team was saying we simply must do better on making sure that we are much more responsive, that we listen more and that as we think about some of the agenda items that we want to see through that we're making sure that we're understanding all of the ramifications.

So I think putting some people in place that are key within the management team is very important. I think looking for opportunities to continue to reinforce those examples where it really has worked and has worked well, looking for ways to continue to reinforce that, that is very important. Some of the issues that you mentioned, I think, had the communication been a little clearer, for example even on the readbacks, a little more communication with people even before we went forward would have gone a long way. We need to remind ourselves to do that, it's a very, very large agency and when you're talking about really in a sense changing the way you're doing business and when you're talking about those kinds of changes with 47,000 people it has to be repeated, it has to be reinforced, and you have to look for those successes and I think really celebrate them and really herald them.

I'm going to be interested — I don't know if you've done it yet — but I'll be interested in your conversations with Nick. [Note: AVweb is also working to get an interview on these issues with the FAA's chief counsel's office. — Ed.] I thought that was a big step forward because I know some of the issues that GA has talked about in the past sometimes lead to some of the legal issues, legal questions.

We haven't been able to put that together yet, but we're very anxious to do it.

Good. And Elliot, I know you and I, we had talked about that last week before Oshkosh, right?


So we'll make sure that happens

AVweb: Is Nick coming to Oshkosh?


When I talk about communication, I want to re-emphasize something which I know you know, and that is that even with the best communication, there will always, or there may be points where the regulator and those they regulate will not always agree. But I think those disagreements are much easier to both understand and talk through when you started the communication early enough.

AVweb: Absolutely.

GARVEY: That Catch A Bad Altitude [program], I'm going to get back to that with the counsel folks, because I had actually understood that maybe there was some more question on the industry part, or on the pilots' part. I'll go back and understand that a little bit better.

AVweb: We were involved very early in the dialogue with the air traffic manager at Atlanta center, who originated the program, and it was one of these things where we said, this program is 95 percent a good thing, and there's five percent that is a problem, and he quickly dealt with the five percent, it was very constructive dialog, I thought. On balance, we thought it was a terrific idea and very innovative and something that could serve as a model for other centers.

GARVEY: Right, and it's wonderful when you see those things springing not from Washington but from out in the field. Let me take a look at that again.

AVweb: Let me quickly run through a few of the common threads we saw in these things and see if you are willing to react to those. Again, maybe we can continue this dialogue next weekend if you have a little time. We identified three areas where we think there are disconnects that are causing this sort of thing to happen. To a large extent they are tied up with this communications issue you're talking about. One area we identified is the attitude of the agency with respect to the user community. It's very clear what your attitude is, I don't think I've ever heard you give a speech where you haven't talked about the fact that you believe strongly in a partnership, that you believe strongly that especially in today's budgetary climate the FAA can't do it all alone, and even if it could do it all alone, to do it all alone would be neglecting this huge resource, this huge amount of expertise that exists in the industry.

So it's very clear that you're a very strong believer in a partnership and working together between the agency and industry. But of course there is this post-ValuJet legacy that is very much in the opposite direction, that says anytime FAA people and industry people work together it's collusion, it undermines the oversight role of the agency and it's something to be ashamed of. Our perception is that headquarters gets your message, and the field doesn't get your message. That there are still a large number of employees you were talking about who don't believe in working with the user community, who believe that it is a "we" versus "them" situation.

GARVEY: You choose and surround yourself with the right people. People who put the same importance to the issue of communication with industry, like Steve Brown, Nick Lacy, Tom McSweeny, and Steve Zademan too, who spends a lot of time doing this as well. Monty Belger who is going out for the next two weeks meeting with all the CEOs talking about delays in the system. You try first and foremost to put the right people in place, and secondly you reinforce those times when the communication is taking place, is working. I'm hearing great things from people like Mike Henry, about some of the conversations he's having with the general aviation community, and frankly I think he's getting a sense of great satisfaction, and he is getting recognized within the agency for those kinds of efforts. I think those two elements, the right people, highlighting successes, and just keeping at it, just keeping at it, because in many ways it is a shift in the way you do business.

AVweb: Right. The sense is there are some real true believers in high places in the FAA, but the gospel according to Jane has not reached all the way down.

GARVEY: I think you have to keep hammering away at it, we have to keep pushing it, and we have to look for those opportunities when it's not working, and deal with it sort of head on, which we've done. I do think there is a legitimate concern from the folks who've been with the agency a long time. They've also heard from people in the IG office, the GAO and the NTSB, who will say, 'don't lose sight of your regulatory responsibility.' So I don't want to minimize the balancing act that we have to do as a regulator and a partner.

AVweb: I think everyone on both sides of the fence understands that dual role. But I think a good measure how well the FAA is doing in this communication area that we've been talking about, maybe a good negative measure, is how many surprises there are. There really shouldn't be surprises. Most of the seven things I started the conversation with were surprises: the twin Cessna exhaust AD, the interpretive rule.

GARVEY: I think that's an excellent point, and that is something we did talk about last week at the retreat, the "no surprises," and no surprises for me either. I think it's just something where you have to really to keep at it. Sometimes I think people think they are communicating, but they may be communicating only with a small group, and it's not enough. I think that's a fair measure, and one that we have to keep focused on, and ask ourselves "how many surprises were there?" We're not there yet, and I don't want to pretend that we are, and my sense is that it is, and will be, a constant issue. Quite honestly, my own experience in other roles, is that the people you sometimes partner with you are not always in agreement, but the key is that if you at least lay out your issues early on, and both understand where each other is coming from helps.

AVweb: I think the users don't always expect to get their way. But they at least want to be heard, to feel that they are part of the process, and then if the decision is made in a way that they don't totally agree with, at least they feel that they participated.

GARVEY: I agree — you're absolutely right.

AVweb: The second of the three disconnects is one that you and I have talked about before, and that has to do with the role of the lawyers and the FAA, and whether they're in the role of consultants, or whether they're in the role of policy-makers. One recent example is this twin Cessna exhaust AD I wrote you about, and I made a case to you that that had no business going direct to final rule. As far as I can tell, I can't find a single person in all of Regulation and Certification — from Tom McSweeny to Beth Erickson, to Mike Gallagher, to Paul in the Wichita ACO, I can't find anybody in Regulation and Certification who felt that should go direct to final rule. Nobody.

GARVEY: I'm going to tell you, and I'll go back and double-check on that, but when I had the conversations with them, they never once said, the lawyers said we should do this. If they had, that would have been my signal. I kept getting back to, what do YOU think, and what they all said to me, this is an either/or, our instincts right away were to go to AD because we felt there were such safety issues that we wanted to move quickly. You did a great job of sort of laying out some other issues, Phil Boyer did too, and Tom did say Beth and he talked, they looked at that, and they said this is really is an either/or, let's go with the NPRM. I was comfortable with that because I did read your points, and I read Phil's too, and I thought they were right on target. I will go back and ask them, I am more and more asking, is this a legal interpretation or is this a policy interpretation, distinguish the two for me, and make sure I can separate it out. So they never once said that the lawyers had told them they had to do that. And if that was the case, I'm disappointed I didn't know that. I really think in that case it was important to look at what are the safety implications and what policy should we make given whatever the safety implications are.

AVweb: Sometimes it's hard to get at the truth there. The way I heard the story, Gallagher wanted this AD to come out because it had been sitting in his in box for two and a half years. And I don't blame him.

But my understanding is that he was told that the only way he could get that AD out was to do it under emergency procedures because the cost analysis work that is required to go through the NPRM process simply hadn't been done after two and a half years of struggle. And as far as I could tell, nobody in Regulation and Certification wanted that to happen. When you tasked Tom to take over Regulation and Certification, a week before he took the job, he sent me an email and he said, under my administration, Regulation and Certification, I can assure you that my people are no longer going to be doing things because that's what they think the lawyers want them to do, they're going to be doing things because they think it's the right thing to do. Then after they decide what the right thing to do is, then the lawyers will get a chance to look at it and decide whether it's legal or not, which is the role lawyers should have. You don't want them driving the policy decisions.

GARVEY: Absolutely.

AVweb: This particular one, on the twin Cessna AD, was one in which this was driven for the wrong reasons, nobody in a policy-making role really wanted this to happen, but it happened anyway. Or, it almost happened anyway.

GARVEY: What the folks here told me was they never mentioned the legal issue but talked about, we're concerned about some of the safety things. We also think the points that folks have raised are legitimate fear, and we could have gone either way, so let's go with the NPRM.

AVweb: Right.

GARVEY: But we'll keep pushing. I appreciate getting the examples of where we may be getting driven too much by the legal. I don't want that to be the case, and I would agree with Tom that that's not the approach we want to take.

AVweb: The third of the three disconnects has to do with how the FAA's dealing with its budget constraints. For example, there seems to be a pretty much across-the-board hiring freeze in a lot of field organizations. On one hand, that seems like what you have to do to share the pain equally, on the other hand, the effect it has is to cut flesh and bone in many places, rather than fat, because it's being done in a sort of arbitrary way, across the board. One of the ways I look at it is, the field people in the FAA really have two different sorts of jobs — there are the oversight people, I'll call them the cops, that watch what's going on and when they see something bad they take action. There are the people whose job it is not to oversee so much, but to approve things. The analogy would be the people who issue building permits, the certification people, as opposed to the oversight/enforcement people.

If you were running a small town and you had to make a budget cut across the government, if you reduce the number of police and patrol cars, it's not entirely clear what would happen. Maybe the crime rate would go up a little bit, maybe it wouldn't, it depends on how honest the people were and so on. But if you cut back by half the number of people issuing building permits, it's very predictable what would happen - you'd just have huge backlogs, and nothing would get done. It seems from where I sit that a little bit more judgment in where you cut and where you don't so the certification people at least have the resources to get the job done.

GARVEY: The most difficult part of this job has been wrestling through the budget issues. It's been extraordinarily difficult. I've just come back from the hill, meeting with some of the senators today on the Senate side, I've been meeting with the House as well. It's a very difficult time and I know they've got a lot that they're trying to balance, and I certainly worry that we may not get the resources that we need. It's absolutely one of the toughest things. When we put the hiring freeze in place though, it was with the clear understanding that in those cases where we felt we had a critical need, we had to fill them. So we've made some changes to that already, we've made some exceptions in the safety area. I can't speak definitively about the certification, I don't know whether we've made any exceptions in that area, but that's certainly something we could find out. But certainly in the safety area, of inspectors and so forth, where we felt we had to have them, we've put them in place. Again, having said that, it has been still enormously difficult to try to make sure that we're not doing it just arbitrarily and across the board, and trying to look at those places where we may really need some folks to get the job done. I think one of the tough discussions we're going to have, and at some point I would love to sit with some of you in industry over it, but I think as we move forward, if the resources piece doesn't change much, we really have to look at our core mission and make sure we are putting our resources in the most sensible ways. From industry you can get some suggestions about from your perspective the services you think are essential. But it's very very tough. We have not just sort of said flatly, no hiring, but in those areas where a strong case can be made, particularly, first and foremost, in the area of safety but also in certification, we've made some exceptions.

AVweb: If you have to cut the certification side of it, then hand in hand with that has to be more delegation of certification to industry. In order that things don't grind to a halt.

GARVEY: Sure. Right.

That's what's been so tough up on the hill, because I know they have so many competing issues, but really with the kind of growth we're seeing in aviation, just keeping up with that growth is a real strain to the existing resources we have. That's why these discussions on the hill are so critical and so important over the next couple of weeks.

AVweb: Could you comment on your position on the issue of medical self-certification for noncommercial pilots?

GARVEY: That's interesting because I was just thinking about that this morning. I think that some of the ideas that our folks have come up with, such as looking at drivers licenses for example, as an alternative so it's not a full self-certification, I think we've got some interesting alternatives we'd like to offer to some of those who've had concerns in the past. As you know, our rules walk through many branches of the administration, and some of them had raised some concerns about that. Again, we're very mindful of the safety issues, I went back and looked at the USA editorials that were in place or came forward a couple of years ago. I'm mindful of that, but I think a couple of the ideas that we have about perhaps another alternative to full self-certification that is something that we'd like to at least offer.

AVweb: Do you see any movement on that in the near future?

GARVEY: I'm hopeful — we've had some initial conversations with folks at OST and I'm going to try to talk to some people from OMB before we get to Oshkosh.

AVweb: That would be a real popular thing to be able to announce.

GARVEY: By the way, I think sometimes even though I know that in general aviation we still have a very good record I think that there are certainly some concerns that people have and I don't want to discount them without trying to treat them fairly.

AVweb: The FAA tried to take a step in that direction a couple years ago with the Part 61 rewrite and it apparently got vetoed at DOT.

GARVEY: Right.

AVweb: Do you expect any regulatory fallout from the Kennedy accident?

GARVEY: I think it's certainly early to tell. The NTSB is clearly going through its investigation. I am always mindful that we don't want to overreact to any one incident. I think it's always fair when you have an accident like that, a serious accident, it's always fair to ask yourself if there's more that could be done or to review what's in place. I think that's a fair thing to ask. But I also understand not overreacting. And I must say by the way I thought the general aviation community was just superb in being both thoughtful and presenting a very good case for general aviation. It's a very new area for most of the people who are watching this coverage and I thought the GA community really distinguished themselves in getting out some very critical and very important information.

AVweb: Are you feeling any Jessica-type rumblings on the hill, in terms of the Kennedy accident?

GARVEY: Hill people have asked. My visits to the hill have not been tied to that but I've been there for reauthorization of the budget. I've had a number of members ask me but its more still in the sort of inquisitive stage, you know, what are the regulations on night flying and so forth. I think it's important to say we always review our own procedures but we certainly don't want to overreact. I notice that yesterday and I just heard tail end of it Saturday, Chairman McCain was on Novak on CNN, and he made a comment to that effect, that he thought a review might be in order, but it was a very tempered comment.

AVweb: Well, that's good news.

GARVEY: I think it's important to — you all have been wonderful about getting the word out, and I think that's always important.

AVweb: We're hearing noises that the administration will be offering you Rodney Slater's position.

GARVEY: Oh, my goodness!

AVweb: Just wondering if you had any comments or denials or anything.

GARVEY: The secretary is doing a terrific job. He's here as far as I can tell, to stay. I think he's been a great help to the president and I'm quite sure he expects to stay to the end. I'm very enthusiastic about this job. I've got three more years and I have to say every day I'm struck with how important it is to have the five-year term.

AVweb: Could you promise to stay?

GARVEY: I have no intention of leaving, I can't imagine…

AVweb: We're going to be very upset if you leave. I want to put you on fair warning here.

GARVEY: Thank you. Larry Burnette the other day on the Hill was teasing me and he said, 'you gotta start talking about re-upping, another five years.'

I fully intend to stay for the three years and I certainly expect, and I'm sure many people who work for the secretary, are expecting him [Secretary Slater] to stay.

AVweb: As the first administrator with a five-year term, you'd set a terrible precedent if you didn't fill it out.

GARVEY: Wouldn't that be just awful! I may have to stay at least five years and one day, anyway.

AVweb: Exactly. You got my vote.

GARVEY: Well thanks very much, and hey, I'm looking forward to seeing you

AVweb: I hope we can find a little time to get together.