From one in the field,it’s a mess
Engineers and Inspectors are hurting and getting overloaded
Absence of Aircraft Certification Engineers and Inspectors hurting industry
Use of Delegation may help both FAA staff and Industry
The Partial Shutdown has been indiscriminately inflicting pain (and may yet again after February 15) on hundreds of millions of dedicated civil servants, some of whom are compelled to work without pay and others deemed not “essential” to command their presence, but again they are not being paid. When they return to their positions, the work deferred during their enforced absence will be huge. That Shutdown bow wave of work will demand 1000% effort and require a high level of focus from these proud professionals who have endured a long insult from the powers to be!
The gridlock between the White House and Congress has also had negative consequences on industry, It has been reported, for example, that some companies are about to layoff some employees because approvals from the FAA are not being issued and thus the project cannot move forward.
In these dire times, particularly if the Shutdown continues, regulatory creativity may help alleviate the logjam.
In particular, the talented FAA Aircraft Certification Engineers and Inspectors have been furloughed as a result of the 35 days (maybe more) of partial government shutdown. These professionals have been forced to work with no pay, without the option to seek outside work in their professions.
The Office of Personnel Management has drawn a very clear wall between what these civil servants may and what may not do. It released a shutdown furlough Q&A memo that declares:
- “If an excepted employee fails to report to work when required to support excepted activities, he or she will be considered absent without leave (AWOL).”
The memo goes on to say:
- “The agency may use its discretion, based on the facts and circumstances of the employee’s situation, to apply appropriate consequences based on the AWOL status.”
Further, from a Department of Transportation website Q&A regarding the shutdown, we find:
- Q: May employees take other jobs while on furlough?
- A: An individual continues to be an employee of the Federal Government during a furlough. As such, standards of ethical conduct and rules on outside employment continue to apply during a furlough period.
The direct result of this situation is that many of these highly educated and skilled federal employees have found themselves in the untenable position of only being able to seek part time work in areas where they lack training or experience. Maybe they can drive for Uber, stock shelves at the local grocery store or shovel snow – any job, but not where they’ve chosen to spend their professional lives. Conversely, nearly all of these individuals are fully aware that their skills and experience are highly marketable outside the FAA.
Right now, morale is very low and many FAA employees are examining their options outside government. As the shutdown winds down the FAA workforce may easily become fertile hunting grounds for private companies seeking solid professionals with regulatory experience. In addition, the ability of the FAA to recruit new engineers and inspectors is likely to be hampered by a proven history of political games and missed paydays. The severe dilution of deeply experienced safety professionals in the FAA is on a knife edge because of the seemingly increasing trend of shutdowns that the public is beginning to accept as a political norm. This does not bode well for the future FAA workforce.
The FAA Aircraft Certification division is responsible for type and production certification of all aircraft, engines, propellers and related products. Their number one priority is Continued Operational Safety (COS), which is now being kept “on life support” with bare minimum staffing. All FAA direct certification and oversight efforts have halted, and many applicants have been (and may again) unable to proceed with their programs. When the FAA eventually gets back to work it will take roughly two weeks of catch-up for every week out, which will certainly be costly to any active certification program. Certainly, industry and the FAA will suffer the consequences of the shutdown for months and perhaps years to come, and the seeds have been planted for a serious dilution of depth in the FAA.
Congress, in a rare moment of foresight and useful statutory creation, may have provided a useful mechanism to deal with the extreme workload created by the Shutdown
In the midst of this mess there may be a strategic solution:
In the FAA reauthorization Act of 2012, the President signed into law the fact the FAA can authorize certified design and production organizations (CDPO), which will be able to “. . . certify compliance of aircraft, aircraft engines, propellers, and appliances with the requirements and minimum standards prescribed under section 44701(a).”
A CDPO is a delegated organization on steroids. In theory, a CDPO may be authorized to proceed with a Type Certificate (TC) or Supplemental TC (STC) program and issue their own design approvals with little or no direct FAA participation. In essence, tell the FAA what they are about to do, get concurrence, and run the program to completion and issue their own TC or STC certificates.
Of course the Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program is in place today, and certain companies are authorized to issue TC’s and STC’s with varying degrees of FAA oversight, depending on the nature of a program and the demonstrated competence and integrity of the certificate holder. As an example of the power of the ODA program, in the midst of the current shutdown, an ODA completed an STC amendment program in 5 days, including a weekend, from date of application to the date of delegated STC self-issuance.
This is a relatively rare case but under ANY circumstances that pace is an impossibility with the FAA. It demonstrates the fact that we have arrived at the beginning of a new era of certification in which the FAA is beginning to expand organizational delegation. Industry also has a strategic path to a level of delegation that has never been seen before, if they choose to pursue it.
Industry now has the challenge to encourage the FAA to move toward CDPO by continuing the expansion of delegation. The very best way for an individual company to do that is to earn an ODA and continually expand the authorization through competence, openness and high performance.
The resource requirements for an ODA can be prohibitive for a small firm, but a third party ODA can take on work for several clients. Anybody who has been an applicant for an STC through both FAA and a competent ODA will have experienced the differences and will know the benefits of an ODA. CDPO will very likely be an option that will be available to a select few companies, but those companies will enjoy lightning fast design approvals, hindered only by their maturity and design skills.
All are genuinely distraught with the mess which the Shutdown has created. The bow wave of important aircraft certification could overwhelm the FAA professionals and crush industry, especially small companies, by the delays this governmental tsunami has created. It my be ironic that Congress’ enactment of the CDPO may alleviate some of that harm.
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