Following last month’s bombshell OSC disclosure report to the President and Congress regarding the FAA’s inability to take whistleblower complaints seriously, The Washington Post issued a powerful editorial:
The whistleblowers’ alerts require the attention of Congress and the White House, not only because they reveal potential gaps in aviation regulation that threaten public safety, but because their dismissal would send a disturbing message about the futility of federal whistleblowing.
What’s disheartening is that these latest disclosures appear to show a pattern of disregard for whistleblower complaints, at least until recently.
This was met with a rebuttal by Acting Administrator Michael Huerta and NATCA chief Paul Rinaldi, trumpeting the relatively-new Office of Audit and Evaluation (AAE), which handles FAA whistleblower complaints:
The May 15 editorial “Overseeing the dangerous skies,” about Transportation Department whistleblower complaints, diminished the importance of significant changes that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has made in how it investigates and responds to these types of allegations.
Two years ago, the FAA established an independent office to ensure that whistleblower complaints are thoroughly reviewed and properly handled. The FAA did not — and does not — hesitate to make management changes, institute new procedures and establish strict corrective plans to address safety issues. [Emphasis added].
To make sure that AAE indeed thoroughly reviews and properly handles whistleblower complaints, the FAA Whistleblowers Alliance and the Government Accountability Project recently made the following FOIA request:
Pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, the Government Accountability Project is seeking comprehensive, objective data to assess the record of the Audit and Evaluation Ofﬁce since Mr. Clay Foushee’s arrival to lead its operations. Speciﬁcally, GAP requests any and all documents and records; as deﬁned by the Act and including drafts of reports, memoranda and other records as well as any responsive electronic records in the index below that have been generated since Mr. Foushee’s arrival:
l. The total number of disclosures, submissions, or complaints received by AAE since its inception.
2. The total number of disclosures, submissions, or complaints received by AAE where a substantial likelihood was found to exist that demonstrates a violation of law, rule, or regulation; acts or omissions that pose a high level ofrisk to aviation safety; and/or gross misconduct of agency employees involving a matter of aviation safety.
A. Summaries of the disclosures, submissions, or complaints under paragraph 2;
B. Summaries of further investigations and corrective actions recommended in response to the submissions, disclosures, or complaints under paragraph 2;
C. Summaries of the responses of the Administrator to recommendations under subparagraph B; and
D. Based on ﬁndings of the assessment conducted under subparagraph C, any recommendations to the Administrator in writing for further investigation or corrective actions.
E. All copies of correspondence between AAE and the affected regional offices regarding findings under paragraph 2;
F. Copies of draft and ﬁnal investigations initiated by any FAA employee pertaining to individual whistleblowers under paragraph 2, as such investigations pertain to such whistleblowers‘ employee performance or credibility.
3. Any notes, writings, reports, metadata, records ofphone conversations, emails, or other documents stemming from or relating to a June 8, 2011 meeting involving H. Clayton Foushee and any other FAA employee, with members of the FAA Whistleblowers Alliance, in the office of the Government Accountability Project in Washington, D.C.
4. Copies of all correspondence between AAE and the Ofﬁce of Special Counsel.
5. A list of names of all past or present AAE employees with titles, grades, and dates of AAE employment.
6. Any documents describing AAE procedures to handle or process whistleblower retaliation complaints and disclosures,
7. Any investigative manuals or standards for resolving or evaluating complaints or allegations.
8. Any records generated in connection with topics listed above that raised or were responding to compliance of 5 U.S.C.§ 2302(b)(8).