Part Three: The Opportunity
And so, we’ve looked at the person who will retire from his ATO COO position in December. Mr. Grizzle has an interesting life story, a deep spirituality, and doubtless knowledge of matters within FAA that could (and should) be corrected. What might he do, toward a safer aviation system, in his final months of FAA service?
Pardon me for a short digression about Whistleblowers. Much in the news in recent months, these brave people are heroic to some, but demonized by others. Whistleblowers are heroes in my book, and increasingly needed in today’s world. What possibly could NOT be heroic about exposing safety failures or frauds? Daniel Ellsberg. Karen Silkwood. Bradley Manning. Edward Snowden. Political spin may obscure their stories and confuse citizens about what these people exposed, but each of these Whistleblowers is a legitimate hero to many people, as they should be.
More often than not, it is the status quo who smear the Whistleblower’s reputation. Why? Because the information exposed by the Whistleblower normally causes those with status quo power to feel threatened. People develop addictions to their income, and in this modern world, it does not take much of a threat for many of us to feel we have no choice but to react improperly, by retaliating against the Whistleblower. Upton Sinclair was dead-on when he said: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
So, in aviation, when a whistleblower speaks up about a safety problem like TV-viewing in the tower cab, or management collusion to delay safety repairs by airlines, or concealed, unreported controller errors (even nonfatal midair collisions!), … well, more than likely, at least one or two FAA officials making mortgage payments (or putting their kids through college) will feel a need to shut down this ‘problem employee’. The ‘problem’ should be the safety or fraud issue, but the ‘problem’ becomes the one responsible employee brave enough to speak up. And so, that one rogue manager retaliates, and from that point forward, to protect the agency (and their own paychecks), most other managers pretend they just do not see. They become unable to stop the runaway retaliation train. Although most of the retaliation is done by just one or two agency officials, collectively all FAA managers (and some coworkers) smear the Whistleblower’s reputation; they isolate him or her from the other employees; they just make coming to work a living hell.
Mr. Grizzle knows this. He has seen this form of jihad…
…and, at FAA.
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So, here is Mr. Grizzle’s Opportunity.
A few months ago, Lance Armstrong did the right thing when he became a Whistleblower against his own fame. He did wrong, long ago, with his blood-doping to help win seven consecutive Tour de France races, but in his defense, he made these mistakes within a culture that was widely corrupted. He was wrong when, for years, he attacked the reputations of those brave Whistleblowers who spoke up about this blood-doping problem, but he eventually made right by speaking up. His doing so is helping to nudge real change. He has helped crack open the problem of blood-doping in another sport, baseball. Maybe, just maybe, Lance Armstrong will someday be seen as ‘heroic’ less as a bicycle racer and more as the guy who helped end the insane and unhealthy blood-doping culture that had become pervasive in sports.
Just as the bicycle racing culture was widely corrupted, so too is the safety culture at FAA. Mr. Grizzle knows this, but he is pragmatic and knows that, during his first four years, first as General Counsel and then as ATO COO, if he had aggressively spoken up, he would have been run out. He smartly laid low. Now, in his final months, he can speak up.
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Here’s a suggestion, Mr. Grizzle. You have proven to be a lead spokesperson, repeatedly calling for an improved ‘Safety Culture’ at FAA. Take that advocacy to the next level. Speak loudly and firmly, and focus your final FAA months toward these three goals:
FAA says new ‘safety culture’ will stress solutions, not blame
By Mike M. Ahlers, CNN
Washington (CNN) — It may seem counterintuitive, but federal aviation officials said Wednesday they will make the skies safer for air travelers not by punishing FAA employees who report making mistakes, but by protecting them from punishment.
Federal Aviation Administration officials announced that as part of a new “safety culture” at the agency, they would fully embrace nonpunitive reporting systems, in an effort to generate information that could expose bigger dangers.
“Make no mistake about it: We don’t condone (errors),” said David Grizzle, the FAA’s Chief Operating Officer. “However, we presume the good intent of our controllers and are more interested in the free flow of information than we are in punishing for errors.”
The FAA took a half-step in that direction in 2008, creating a non-punitive reporting system for air traffic controllers. On Wednesday, the FAA said it was expanding the program to employees who maintain radar installations and other systems….
[click to read the full article]
- ‘Make Whole’ those Whistleblowers whose lives were trashed by our FAA, during the hellish years from 2006 onward. For some, this will mean formal letters of apology; for others, this will mean financial compensation and/or a return to duty. Some of these victims of retaliation were forced to retire; they will be made whole only after their work status has been reinstated or justly settled.
- to procure factual statements from FAA employees who have knowledge of these retaliations but have remained quiet within FAA’s present ‘culture of fear’, initiate an amnesty program. Grant full amnesty to all who retaliated (or acted like they were unaware of the retaliation) against each FAA Whistleblower EXCEPT the one FAA official who initiated the retaliation snowball. In other words, all those downstream from the initiator need to be encouraged to speak up, while the initiator needs to be brought to account.
- to facilitate making all FAA Whistleblowers whole, and to fully expose the improper practices (to ensure they will not happen again), direct Clay Foushee and his Audit & Evaluation office (AAE) to open full investigations on each of the following Whistleblower cases: Raymond Adams, Bobby Boutris, Gabe Bruno, Mary Rose Diefenderfer, Kim Farrington, Ed Jeszka, Jeff Lewis, Mark Lund, Peter Nesbitt, Douglas Peters, Curt Read, Rosanne Ryburn, Evan Seeley, Anne Whiteman, Rich Wyeroski, … and any other controllers, safety inspectors, or other FAA employees who may have been damaged via FAA Whistleblower retaliation. Their stories need to be heard.
Alternatively, if all the above just feels too onerous, please at least draft a strong letter, formally advocating for the full and objective investigation or hearing of each of these stories, by the DoT Inspector General, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, or any other appropriate authority.
And, Mr. Grizzle, thank you for your service. I pray that you and your family will have a joyful future.