Pat McNall retires from FAA leaving an exemplary record and facing a fascinating future- GOOD LUCK

Breaking the Glass Ceiling at 800 Independence
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Started at lowest legal position and reached highest career law executive job

Held high-ranking positions in 3 other FAA organizations

She will be missed

Aviation has been a male bastion since the Wright Brothers (although Katherine Wright, their sister, was a teammate). The career employees of the FAA followed that trend, but over time women were hired particularly in the jobs requiring professional degrees (accounting, economics, engineering, HR, law, etc.). Today, women occupy positions in all levels and in all organizations at the FAA, including many of the leadership positions.  Their collective contributions have led the way towards a new safety regulatory regime, bold, innovative action in air traffic control management/design, critical acquisitions of massive systems, advancing the HR programs and superb legal advice.

That said, on Thursday September 23, the FAA will honor Pat McNall on her retirement. Here are some prepared remarks to be given. Pat is one of a number women who have broken figuratively the glass ceiling on the 10th Floor.

glass ceiling

Apologies if I missed anyone, age does horrible things too one’s memory, but here is a representative sample of women who led the way:

RADM. Annie B. Andrews

Terri Bristol

Amy Corbett

Darlene Freeman. 

Peggy Gilligan

Kate Lang

Anne Harlan

Lynne Osmus

Emily Trapnell

Pamela Whitley

and many others

FAA diversity

The FAA’s mission of aviation safety is critical to America’s economy. Those who choose to serve that goal must be dedicated, energetic, intelligent and thoughtful in fulfilling her/his individual assignment.

  • Dedication because safety demands constant vigilance.
  • With a massive scope of work and responsibility, every day requires tremendous effort.
  • As the last ten or so years have proved, aviation is dynamic forging into technologies and science which did not exist when the Wrights created this form of transportation. The ability to comprehend these innovations is essential to regulating and acquisitions.
  • Evolving methods of regulating, a changing stakeholder population, requirements that must not only meet today’s needs but include over the horizon demands.

Pat McNall

Pat McNall has met all of these elements of government service and has performed at a high level since 1983—that’s a LONG time ago as measured by the fact that the AGC then was me.

When you review Ms. McNall’s CV, one is impressed with a rigorous and broad education which she completed:

  • a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Asian Studies from Scripps College
  • Master’s degree in Economics and International Relations from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Relations
  • Completion of a Columbia University program held at the Shanghai Law Institute on law, foreign trade, and Chinese language
  • Juris Doctorate from George Washington University.

McNall CV

Some time was spent outside the library, on the beautiful Scripps campus,  Pat was a member of the Scripps Debate Team, Head of the Judicial Panel and Vice President of the student body.

With extensive expertises and experiences in International Relations, Asian studies, Chinese language, foreign trade and economics the expected Career Choice would be international trade relations with the PRC, but prescient Pat chose  GOVERNMENT CONTRACTS.

Thankfully, Pat choose to advise the FAA Acquisition team through historic purchases, particularly in the ATC computers and systems.

Some Background

In 1985 Sec. Dole called Adm. Engen over to her office to explain his need to increase diversity at the FAA at the SES levels. Working with a gifted executive personnel leader, Larry Covington, we identified that one reason, why upward mobility was not occurring, was that broad experience was one of the measures for lateral promotion. Finding that (1) AFS and ATC holding a large percentage of these prized positions and (2) many women at the FAA in jobs requiring professional degrees ( JD, accounting, economics, policy), there was an unintentional institutional barrier to women seeking SES jobs. Sec. Dole approved our plan to establish a rotation that would assist minorities to get this broader experience.

Those minority professionals would be encouraged to try new disciplines on a lateral basis and that time led to further advancements based on that necessary exposure. The concept was facilitated by Larry’s talent to shepherd these career moves; the program worked because the participants were so qualified.

Pat would have earned the Larry Covington award if it existed:

  • Chief Acquisition Officer and Acquisition and Deputy Assistant Administrator for Finance and Management, ATO
  • Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Policy, Planning and International Aviation,
  • Deputy Assistant Chief Counsel for FAA’s Technical Center,
  • Special Assistant to the Chief Counsel,
  • Acting Deputy Director for the FAA’s Office of Acquisitions.
  • Blue Ribbon Panel of acquisition experts and attorneys to create a new acquisition management system for FAA
  • Co-Chair of the Budget and Finance Working Group as part of the Department of Transportation’s initiative to create an Air Traffic Control Corporation

Evidently, no one noticed these achievements because Pat only received a few minor recognitions (not):

  • the Presidential Rank Award of Merit,
  • a National Performance Review “Hammer” award from the Vice-President,
  • the Federal Bar Association’s Transportation Lawyer of the Year,
  • the Secretary’s “Gold Medal” award,
  • Outstanding Attorney at FAA for the year,
  • Logistics Service Award,
  • Quality Action Team awards,


  • numerous Special Achievement Awards.

So Pat is retiring. Given her background… a future US Ambassador to the PRC…a job with ICAO or IATA… or sitting in her favorite chair and reading some of her FAA contracts?

All, who know her, like and admire her. She will be missed from 800 Independence, but all will be eager to see what challenge she takes next.


   It also will be interesting to see how the Senior Ranks of the FAA will be composed in the future.


Future FAA Organization Chart










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