Monday, April 07, 2008

It’s Worse Than They Think

There is an underlying theme I see developing in the news coverage of Chairman Oberstar’s hearing on the FAA. The FAA is trying to put out this fire and convince the public that this incident is an isolated incident. Barring that, they would have you believe that these symptoms are limited to the FAA’s Southwest Region. (I know it is confusing some people. The story involves Southwest Airlines and the FAA’s Southwest District Office -- two entirely different bodies.) If they can’t convince you it’s limited to the FAA’s Southwest office then they’ll try to convince you it’s limited to the FAA’s aircraft inspection line of business.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The FAA incompetence and arrogance you see on display in these hearings is systemic. It is pervasive. It is so all encompassing that most people -- including several committee members in these hearings -- have been reduced to referring to it as the FAA’s culture.

This culture has always been present in the FAA. It is almost an occupational hazard (if you will). You must remember the FAA’s history. Much of the FAA’s management and nearly all of its technical expertise came from the military. General Elwood R. Quesada was the first Administrator of the FAA and the FAA’s ties to the military go back even further -- and deeper. There have been many benefits to this culture. The FAA was once known as one of the most technically competent, civilian agencies in government. But there have also been problems.

As always, finding the right balance seems to be the problem. As I have stated before, every large organization has a certain number of managers that should be kept in check. Unfortunately, this Administration -- under the leadership of Marion Blakey -- enabled the very managers that should have been kept out of positions of real power.

The fact that this course of action was deliberate is well documented. There is no doubt that it was intentional. The ruthlessness and almost child-like cruelty of it is obvious to anyone who will look at the facts. The hiring of Joe Miniace demonstrates the ruthlessness. Mr. Miniace, plain-and-simple, is a professional union-buster. The FAA’s imposition of their work rules on Labor Day demonstrates their child-like cruelty.

I know that many will resist looking at this issue through a labor vs. management lens. I understand. I simply ask that you actually look at it. Follow the instructions from my previous blog entry and watch the video of the 4th panel -- found at the 1 hour 41 minute mark. Pay particular attention to Tom Brantley of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists. When he speaks, you’ll probably fail to notice that he isn’t an aircraft inspector. He’ll explain his FAA background later during questioning. His obvious comfort in representing his members in matters outside his area of expertise comes from the fact that he recognizes the FAA’s tactics too. Those same tactics exist throughout the FAA -- for aircraft inspectors, equipment technicians and air traffic controllers alike.

I encourage you, in the strongest terms possible, to watch the entire testimony -- including the question and answer portion -- of these men and women. They aren’t the polished policy makers that you normally see under the bright lights. These are the people from the field -- the people that get it done. Ask yourself if they are telling the truth. And in case you are tempted to dismiss Mr. Thrash’s typically-Texan,-over-the-top testimony (as I first did when listening on the radio) -- take a closer look. You’ll see Chairman Oberstar taking notes. Here is some background on the specific story in case you’re interested.

Don Brown
April 7, 2008

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