FAA’s responses to DeFazio/Larsen Letter and Survey

Larsen and DeFazio
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The Chairs of the Full House Transportation Committee and of the T&I Aviation Subcommittee issued a Press Release castigating the FAA for the “damning results” of an agency employee survey. Their conclusion was “the survey means nothing if the results aren’t fully analyzed and corrective steps aren’t properly and aggressively implemented.”

A sampling of the self-administrated survey provides support for their conclusions:

“The survey quoted one anonymous employee as saying that the message was, “Don’t rock the boat with Boeing.”

The report found employees believe aviation safety leaders “painted ‘too rosy of a picture’” after the 737 MAX crashes “and did not acknowledge the needed changes to FAA safety-related policies and processes.

The survey, turned over to Congress on Friday, found that many aviation safety employees believe that “senior leaders are overly concerned with achieving the business-oriented outcomes of industry stakeholders and are not held accountable for safety-related decisions.”

These opinions may have been influenced by an initiative to move from “prescriptive” to performance as the certification methodology. Though initially this new more engineering based analytical certification discipline applies to the Part 23 aircraft process, it was clear that the new approach would apply to the Part 25 planes of Boeing and others.  Reorganization of the FAA field offices emphasized the broad change from “check list” rubrics to statistical risk analysis.  This new performance regime is not just  a US invention, but represents the global consensus. It has been clear from the early discussion of a specific case risk assessment, requiring a high level of engineering expertise, was not being well received by the rank and file of the AIR organization.

The Administrator, already having imposed a huge fine on Boeing for “undue pressure, responded to the Chairs’ insistence that the FAA act vigorously by announcing the extension of a Voluntary Safety Report Program to the manufacturing sector, presumably available to the FAA, ODA and Boeing participants.

ASRS

The VSRP will be modeled after the incredibly powerful and effective Aviation Safety Reporting Program. Pilots, flight attendants, controllers and maintenance personnel may provide information about possible safety issues res. The flow of such important events to NASA, which administers the “deindividualization” of the person reporting, has resulted in the issuance of warnings and techniques to avoid these risks.

The FAA’s initial actions are moving in the right direction, but the real problem lies on the front lines. Imbalances between the parties have led to deleterious attitudes which harm the interactions required to move a process as complex and demanding as the certification of a commercial aircraft.

Senator Cantwell

Senator Cantwell’s letter (see below) inartfully (unintentionally?) argues for termination/suspension/revision of the Boeing ODA. It may be timely for such a review by the FAA:

What FAA Must Do About The Boeing ODA?

New York Times Article- Is It Time To Reconsider The Boeing ODA?

Time For ODA Order Chapter 7 Action On Boeing ODA?

At a minimum, the Boeing individuals who exercised undue pressure and/or made such damaging attacks on the FAA colleagues should be removed from the interface between the regulator and the regulated.

 

B-737 Max 8


 

 

Chairs DeFazio and Larsen Statements on Results of 2019 FAA Employee Survey on Safety Culture

T&I logo

 

Washington, D.C. — Today, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA)[1] released the following statements after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) fulfilled their request for a copy of a 2019 survey of FAA employees about the agency’s safety culture. DeFazio and Larsen requested the survey last month as part of the Committee’s ongoing investigation into the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

“The FAA employee survey results are damning, and much like what we’ve uncovered in our own investigation, reflect a disturbing pattern of senior officials at a Federal agency rolling over for industry. That’s especially disturbing to see when it comes to Boeing, which, as we know now, pushed a plane through a broken regulatory process that resulted in the deaths of 346 innocent people,” Chair DeFazio said. “It’s now incumbent upon the FAA to do something with the results of this employee survey. As Chair Larsen and I stressed to FAA Administrator Dickson in our request last month, the simple act of conducting the survey means nothing if the results aren’t fully analyzed and corrective steps aren’t properly and aggressively implemented.

 

Safety Culture

“The results of the FAA’s employee survey confirm my significant concerns about the agency’s safety culture,” said Chair Larsen. “It is disheartening to see the agency’s own employees lack the confidence in leadership to make sound, safety-driven decisions. As Chair of the Aviation Subcommittee, I am committed to working with my colleagues to ensure the integrity of the aircraft certification process and FAA’s critical safety work.”

 

 


Exclusive: FAA employees report industry pressure, question agency safety push in survey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety employees reported facing “strong” external pressure from industry and raised alarms the agency does not always prioritize air safety, according to an independent survey seen by Reuters on Friday.

Max 8 production line

The survey report gives ammunition to critics who argue in the aftermath of two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes that the U.S. aviation safety regulator has not done enough to insulate employees from industry pressure….

[Quotes deleted here included in this post’s introductory paragraph.]

The survey, turned over to Congress on Friday, found that many aviation safety employees believe that “senior leaders are overly concerned with achieving the business-oriented outcomes of industry stakeholders and are not held accountable for safety-related decisions.

FAA safety culture

 

 

“It is completely unacceptable that there are employees who lack confidence that their safety concerns are taken seriously,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, who took over in August 2019, said in a letter to Congress on Friday, adding the agency is moving to create a Voluntary Safety Reporting Program – a confidential “non-punitive environment that encourages open reporting of aviation safety issues and concerns.”

The FAA commissioned the survey after it announced plans in April 2019 to improve safety culture following the second fatal Boeing crash. The agency noted the survey was “designed specifically to encourage candid feedback.”

Boeing pressure on FAA

 

The safety culture survey, conducted in late 2019 and in focus groups in early 2020, said employees and managers reported external pressure from industry is strong and is impacting” the safety culture. “They shared that there is an unwritten code to be more ‘liberal-minded’ (versus conservative) when assessing safety risks, and there is pressure to find win-win solutions that benefit industry,” the survey found.

“Many reported that industry will escalate issues to senior leadership and/or Congress if FAA employees are perceived as ‘getting in their way,” which directly leads to decisions that are friendlier to industry (i.e., to help meet timelines and manage costs of industry applicants and operators),” the survey added.

Nearly half of survey respondents disagreed that the FAA makes data-driven decisions on safety regardless of external pressure.

Agency employees said they can be “over-powered in meetings with industry,” with one unnamed employee saying: “It feels like we are showing up to a knife fight with Nerf weapons. It is a challenge to be an equal match with Boeing in the meetings/conversations.”

NATCA

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which represents FAA aviation safety workers, said it appreciated the FAA taking the report’s findings seriously. It noted the union is working with FAA “to develop a more robust voluntary safety reporting program.”


Cantwell Letter

 

Senator Cantwell, ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and one of the Senators representing the State of Washington (largest home of Boeing’s employees) wrote the above letter to Secretary Chao and Administrator Dickson. Citing the FAA’s civil penalty (based on issues in South Carolina) and the FAA’s national AIR employees, she calls for “…the return to direct oversight of designees as previously structured with Designated Engineering Representatives.” She adds that the Civil Penalty and Administrator Dickson’s proposed Voluntary Safety Reporting Program are “inadequate.”

Not sure what is meant by “direct oversight with DERs” means. De Facto that seems to mean elimination the Boeing ODA.


 

[1] See at the last page this replication of the DeFazio/Larsen power duo in Australia

As an aficionado of BIZARRE COINCIDENTS, here is one of the results for a DeFazio / Larson search:

 

DeFazio Larson



 

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1 Comment on "FAA’s responses to DeFazio/Larsen Letter and Survey"

  1. Gary R Sizemore | August 12, 2020 at 2:25 pm | Reply

    There are several reasons for this finding. There needs to be an in-depth investigation into the FAA and all it’s practices including hiring. Having the right people in the right place is critical to the success of this type agency.

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