NEWSCLIP-2011-06-15: FAA whistleblowers feel betrayed

By: Barbara Hollingsworth | 06/15/11 9:15 PM

Local Opinion Editor

Members of the Federal Aviation Administration Whistleblowers Alliance were expecting more from the chief of the FAA’s Office of Audit and Evaluation, Clayton Foushee Jr. They hoped Foushee would finally do something about the relentless retaliation reported by former FAA employees forced out for doing their jobs. But they were once again disappointed.

“Older cases would have lesser priority,” said Whistleblowers Alliance Executive Director Gabe Bruno, who attended the meeting last week at the offices of the Government Accountability Project. Former FAA manager Bruno was forced to retire after uncovering a fraudulent airline mechanic certification scheme in which 33 “mechanics” shared the same address in Saudi Arabia.

“They made it clear that their primary mission is to protect current employees who blow the whistle, not expand it to people who left the agency,” concurred Accountability Project Legal Director Tom Devine. He alleged that Foushee admitted FAA managers are still abusing their authority, but told the former employees there was nothing he could do for them.

Mothballing old cases is a big mistake, Devine believes. “Some old cases have the most chilling effect on would-be whistleblowers. As symbols of intimidation and the hopelessness of seeking justice, they undercut Audit and Evaluation’s own credibility.”

One example is Edward Jeszka, a former flight standards inspector in Birmingham, Ala., whose FAA certificate was revoked after he reported that a supervisor was diverting tens of thousands of dollars for his own personal training — and FAA management signed off on the fraud. The crooked employee even crashed a $180,000 government helicopter, but it was Jeszka who got the boot.

“Audit and Evaluation has been in business for over a year and hasn’t helped anybody,” complained Rich Wyeroski, a former Long Island, N.Y., inspector who says he was fired after reporting runway near-misses and other serious safety violations. He claims the FAA blackballed him so he could not get another job, planted backdated regulations in the Federal Register to justify his illegal firing, and then lied to an administrative court judge.

The fact that Foushee reports directly to FAA chief lawyer David Grizzle — who is defending the agency against Wyeroski’s accusations — doesn’t help. After eight and a half years, Wyeroski’s case is pending before the Merit Systems Protection Board, which historically has sided with less than 2 percent of plaintiffs who make it that far.

Former FAA cabin and aviation safety inspector Kim Farrington, whose case is in appeal, says she was also hounded out of the agency after insisting that flight crews were not receiving adequate emergency training — even though three passengers perished because a flight attendant did not know how to open the exit door of a burning DC9. The National Transportation Safety Board sided with Farrington’s interpretation of the rules — but that was not enough to get her job back.

FAA Whistleblowers Alliance members have one good reason for optimism. Mary Rose Diefenderfer, formerly the FAA’s top safety inspector in Seattle, was forced out after she reported that Alaska Airlines was falsifying maintenance records — a year before a critical stabilizer assembly failed and sent Flight 261 careening into the Pacific Ocean, killing all 88 people on board.

She also fingered an airline executive who used highly flammable vodka to de-ice a jetliner grounded in Siberia, warning Congress that “dedicated, ethical inspectors are attacked every day for upholding public safety.”

Earlier this year, after 12 years of litigation, the FAA reportedly finally awarded Diefenderfer a large settlement.

Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Washington Examiner local opinion editor.
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