A Pre-AirVenture Interview with Jane Garvey

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 toOshkosh.

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, ingeneral 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’sdetermined 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 joba little bit longer.

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

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 wayto use this time was to ask you one essay question instead of a lot ofmultiple-choice questions and see where it goes. I’ll just lead off with it. Andthe 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 thisone, but let me tell you what we have in mind. We made a list of some of thenotable events that occurred over the last year or so that stuck out in ourminds as being things that shouldn’t have happened. We started the list, whichwas not really fair, with the Bob Hoover medical thing. That really predatesyour tenure, but it was certainly really high-profile. If you recall this time ayear ago, we were talking about the thing that happened with BillBainbridge that you interceded in and got sorted out. We were talking aboutthe ticket program, which caused a big hue and cry and you interceded and gotthat sorted out. More recently there was the counsel’s office ruling on drugtesting for charity flights, which everybody seemed to agree was not really agood interpretation: Nobody but the attorneys thought it was a really good idea.

The interpretive rule on readbacks was asimilar 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 AtlantaCenter came up with called “Catch aBad 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, heyyou guys can’t go off and do stuff like that on your own, that sort of thing hasto be coordinated at headquarters, and so on. And finally, one that’s near anddear to my heart, which we have communicated about very recently, is the twinCessna exhaust AD, where an AD came within about 24 hours of going direct tofinal rule under what I think are circumstances where everyone seems to agreethat 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 doesthe fact that these sorts of things have been happening, what does that sayabout what’s wrong with the system, that this sort of thing continues to happenand that it winds up getting escalated to your office and getting solved in afirefighting way but the same sort of things continue to happen and probablywill 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 tohear what you think. What is all this symptomatic of, and what can be done aboutit – before your tenure is up and somebody else who may be less accessible orless responsive than you’ve been takes over the job?

GARVEY: Okay, first of all, I’m happy to make some comments, and I like thiskind of interview, I think it’s an interesting way to kind of explore somelarger issues. But let me just say let’s be sure and leave time for me to hearwhat 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 ifwe look at the relationship with the GA community in particular, I think we’vemade some really terrific strides over the last couple of years. The “SaferSkies” agenda, the regular meetings with the GA community to really shapethat agenda in a way that makes sense both to them and the FAA, has beenenormously productive. I think the work we’ve done in the area of weather withthe GA community has been very, very productive. We are streamlining some of ourprocedures in Flight Standards and certification, and again, those streamliningsreally grew out of conversations and communication with the GA community. So Ithink there are some successes. We had a wonderful discussion last week aboutwhat’s a goal that makes sense in terms of reduction of accidents, in terms ofreduction of fatalities for the GA community, and hearing the perspective ofpeople who have lived and breathed general aviation was just enormously helpfulin those discussions.

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

So I think we’ve produced some good things when we’ve sat down and we’vetalked it through and we’ve identified issues and worked together on them. Andfrom my perspective, I think that’s one of the most important legacies that Ican leave, is to leave in place some people who feel exactly as I do about theneed to communicate. I’m really pleased with some of the people that have joinedthe FAA in the last couple of years, and some of the ones who have been therebut are now in other positions, sometimes in higher positions, someone likeSteve Brown, who did such a great job last week at the hearing, in talking aboutweather and general aviation, his background in general aviation has beenterrific. Nick Lacy, who as we sat last week and talked about some issues thatwere happening in flight standards could bring the perspective of someone who’dbeen in the industry. That was enormously helpful as well. Tom McSweeney, who’sbeen part of this agency for a number of years but has spent an enormous amountof time in his new position just getting out and talking to people. So I thinkthat’s really important, putting some people in place who see the real value incommunication and in working with our constituent group.

We had a wonderful retreat about two weeks ago and the whole theme wascredibility – the credibility of the agency with the industry, the credibilityof the agency with the public, the credibility of the agency with Congress, andthe credibility of the agency even with ourselves, even with our own employees.There were some very, very tough discussions, very tough discussions, and Ithink really to a person in that group, the management team was saying we simplymust do better on making sure that we are much more responsive, that we listenmore and that as we think about some of the agenda items that we want to seethrough that we’re making sure that we’re understanding all of theramifications.

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

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

We haven’t been able to put that together yet, but we’re very anxious to doit.

Good. And Elliot, I know you and I, we had talked about that last week beforeOshkosh, 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 knowyou 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 notalways agree. But I think those disagreements are much easier to both understandand 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 thatwith the counsel folks, because I had actually understood that maybe there wassome more question on the industry part, or on the pilots’ part. I’ll go backand understand that a little bit better.

AVweb: We were involved very early in the dialogue with the air trafficmanager at Atlanta center, who originated the program, and it was one of thesethings where we said, this program is 95 percent a good thing, and there’s fivepercent that is a problem, and he quickly dealt with the five percent, it wasvery constructive dialog, I thought. On balance, we thought it was a terrificidea and very innovative and something that could serve as a model for othercenters.

GARVEY: Right, and it’s wonderful when you see those things springing notfrom 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 thesethings and see if you are willing to react to those. Again, maybe we cancontinue this dialogue next weekend if you have a little time. We identifiedthree areas where we think there are disconnects that are causing this sort ofthing to happen. To a large extent they are tied up with this communicationsissue you’re talking about. One area we identified is the attitude of the agencywith respect to the user community. It’s very clear what your attitude is, Idon’t think I’ve ever heard you give a speech where you haven’t talked about thefact that you believe strongly in a partnership, that you believe strongly thatespecially in today’s budgetary climate the FAA can’t do it all alone, and evenif it could do it all alone, to do it all alone would be neglecting this hugeresource, 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 andworking together between the agency and industry. But of course there is thispost-ValuJet legacy that is very much in the opposite direction, that saysanytime FAA people and industry people work together it’s collusion, itundermines 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 getyour message. That there are still a large number of employees you were talkingabout who don’t believe in working with the user community, who believe that itis a “we” versus “them” situation.

GARVEY: You choose and surround yourself with the right people. People whoput the same importance to the issue of communication with industry, like SteveBrown, Nick Lacy, Tom McSweeny, and Steve Zademan too, who spends a lot of timedoing this as well. Monty Belger who is going out for the next two weeks meetingwith all the CEOs talking about delays in the system. You try first and foremostto put the right people in place, and secondly you reinforce those times whenthe communication is taking place, is working. I’m hearing great things frompeople like Mike Henry, about some of the conversations he’s having with thegeneral aviation community, and frankly I think he’s getting a sense of greatsatisfaction, and he is getting recognized within the agency for those kinds ofefforts. 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 shiftin the way you do business.

AVweb: Right. The sense is there are some real true believers in high placesin 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 keeppushing 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 alegitimate 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 willsay, ‘don’t lose sight of your regulatory responsibility.’ So I don’t want tominimize 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 dualrole. But I think a good measure how well the FAA is doing in this communicationarea that we’ve been talking about, maybe a good negative measure, is how manysurprises there are. There really shouldn’t be surprises. Most of the seventhings I started the conversation with were surprises: the twin Cessna exhaustAD, the interpretive rule.

GARVEY: I think that’s an excellent point, and that is something we did talkabout last week at the retreat, the “no surprises,” and no surprisesfor me either. I think it’s just something where you have to really to keep atit. Sometimes I think people think they are communicating, but they may becommunicating only with a small group, and it’s not enough. I think that’s afair 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 wantto pretend that we are, and my sense is that it is, and will be, a constantissue. Quite honestly, my own experience in other roles, is that the people yousometimes partner with you are not always in agreement, but the key is that ifyou at least lay out your issues early on, and both understand where each otheris coming from helps.

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

GARVEY: I agree – you’re absolutely right.

AVweb: The second of the three disconnects is one that you and I have talkedabout before, and that has to do with the role of the lawyers and the FAA, andwhether they’re in the role of consultants, or whether they’re in the role ofpolicy-makers. One recent example is this twin Cessna exhaust AD I wrote youabout, and I made a case to you that that had no business going direct to finalrule. As far as I can tell, I can’t find a single person in all of Regulationand Certification – from Tom McSweeny to Beth Erickson, to Mike Gallagher, toPaul in the Wichita ACO, I can’t find anybody in Regulation and Certificationwho 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, butwhen I had the conversations with them, they never once said, the lawyers saidwe should do this. If they had, that would have been my signal. I kept gettingback 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 safetyissues that we wanted to move quickly. You did a great job of sort of laying outsome other issues, Phil Boyer did too, and Tom did say Beth and he talked, theylooked at that, and they said this is really is an either/or, let’s go with theNPRM. I was comfortable with that because I did read your points, and I readPhil’s too, and I thought they were right on target. I will go back and askthem, I am more and more asking, is this a legal interpretation or is this apolicy interpretation, distinguish the two for me, and make sure I can separateit out. So they never once said that the lawyers had told them they had to dothat. And if that was the case, I’m disappointed I didn’t know that. I reallythink in that case it was important to look at what are the safety implicationsand 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 thestory, Gallagher wanted this AD to come out because it had been sitting in hisin 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 thatAD out was to do it under emergency procedures because the cost analysis workthat is required to go through the NPRM process simply hadn’t been done aftertwo and a half years of struggle. And as far as I could tell, nobody inRegulation and Certification wanted that to happen. When you tasked Tom to takeover Regulation and Certification, a week before he took the job, he sent me anemail and he said, under my administration, Regulation and Certification, I canassure you that my people are no longer going to be doing things because that’swhat they think the lawyers want them to do, they’re going to be doing thingsbecause they think it’s the right thing to do. Then after they decide what theright thing to do is, then the lawyers will get a chance to look at it anddecide whether it’s legal or not, which is the role lawyers should have. Youdon’t want them driving the policy decisions.

GARVEY: Absolutely.

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

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

AVweb: Right.

GARVEY: But we’ll keep pushing. I appreciate getting the examples of where wemay 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’sdealing with its budget constraints. For example, there seems to be a prettymuch across-the-board hiring freeze in a lot of field organizations. On onehand, that seems like what you have to do to share the pain equally, on theother hand, the effect it has is to cut flesh and bone in many places, ratherthan 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 twodifferent sorts of jobs – there are the oversight people, I’ll call them thecops, that watch what’s going on and when they see something bad they takeaction. There are the people whose job it is not to oversee so much, but toapprove things. The analogy would be the people who issue building permits, thecertification people, as opposed to the oversight/enforcement people.

If you were running a small town and you had to make a budget cut across thegovernment, if you reduce the number of police and patrol cars, it’s notentirely 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 ifyou cut back by half the number of people issuing building permits, it’s verypredictable what would happen – you’d just have huge backlogs, and nothing wouldget done. It seems from where I sit that a little bit more judgment in where youcut and where you don’t so the certification people at least have the resourcesto get the job done.

GARVEY: The most difficult part of this job has been wrestling through thebudget issues. It’s been extraordinarily difficult. I’ve just come back from thehill, meeting with some of the senators today on the Senate side, I’ve beenmeeting with the House as well. It’s a very difficult time and I know they’vegot a lot that they’re trying to balance, and I certainly worry that we may notget the resources that we need. It’s absolutely one of the toughest things. Whenwe put the hiring freeze in place though, it was with the clear understandingthat 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 thesafety area. I can’t speak definitively about the certification, I don’t knowwhether we’ve made any exceptions in that area, but that’s certainly somethingwe 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 saidthat, it has been still enormously difficult to try to make sure that we’re notdoing it just arbitrarily and across the board, and trying to look at thoseplaces where we may really need some folks to get the job done. I think one ofthe tough discussions we’re going to have, and at some point I would love to sitwith some of you in industry over it, but I think as we move forward, if theresources piece doesn’t change much, we really have to look at our core missionand make sure we are putting our resources in the most sensible ways. Fromindustry you can get some suggestions about from your perspective the servicesyou think are essential. But it’s very very tough. We have not just sort of saidflatly, no hiring, but in those areas where a strong case can be made,particularly, first and foremost, in the area of safety but also incertification, we’ve made some exceptions.

AVweb: If you have to cut the certification side of it, then hand in handwith that has to be more delegation of certification to industry. In order thatthings 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 manycompeting 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 wehave. That’s why these discussions on the hill are so critical and so importantover the next couple of weeks.

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

GARVEY: That’s interesting because I was just thinking about that thismorning. I think that some of the ideas that our folks have come up with, suchas looking at drivers licenses for example, as an alternative so it’s not a fullself-certification, I think we’ve got some interesting alternatives we’d like tooffer to some of those who’ve had concerns in the past. As you know, our ruleswalk through many branches of the administration, and some of them had raisedsome concerns about that. Again, we’re very mindful of the safety issues, I wentback and looked at the USA editorials that were in place or came forward acouple of years ago. I’m mindful of that, but I think a couple of the ideas thatwe have about perhaps another alternative to full self-certification that issomething 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 OSTand 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 generalaviation we still have a very good record I think that there are certainly someconcerns that people have and I don’t want to discount them without trying totreat them fairly.

AVweb: The FAA tried to take a step in that direction a couple years ago withthe 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 goingthrough its investigation. I am always mindful that we don’t want to overreactto any one incident. I think it’s always fair when you have an accident likethat, a serious accident, it’s always fair to ask yourself if there’s more thatcould 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 thegeneral aviation community was just superb in being both thoughtful andpresenting a very good case for general aviation. It’s a very new area for mostof the people who are watching this coverage and I thought the GA communityreally distinguished themselves in getting out some very critical and veryimportant information.

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

GARVEY: Hill people have asked. My visits to the hill have not been tied tothat but I’ve been there for reauthorization of the budget. I’ve had a number ofmembers 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 tosay we always review our own procedures but we certainly don’t want tooverreact. 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, thathe 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 aboutgetting the word out, and I think that’s always important.

AVweb: We’re hearing noises that the administration will be offering youRodney 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 cantell, to stay. I think he’s been a great help to the president and I’m quitesure he expects to stay to the end. I’m very enthusiastic about this job. I’vegot three more years and I have to say every day I’m struck with how importantit 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 fairwarning here.

GARVEY: Thank you. Larry Burnette the other day on the Hill was teasing meand 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’msure many people who work for the secretary, are expecting him [SecretarySlater] to stay.

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

GARVEY: Wouldn’t that be just awful! I may have to stay at least five yearsand 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.