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 U.S. Office of Special Counsel
 1730 M Street, N.W., Suite 201
 Washington, D.C. 20036-4505

U.S. OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL SENDS REPORT CONFIRMING GROSS MISMANAGEMENT OF FAA’S RED TEAM, RESULTING IN SUBSTANTIAL AND SPECIFIC DANGER TO PUBLIC SAFETY


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 3/18/03
CONTACT: JANE MCFARLAND
(202) 653-7984               

    The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today sent to the President and to Congress the results of an investigation into disclosures of information made by Mr. Bogdan Dzakovic, a former Special Agent with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) “Red Team.” The FAA “Red Team” was an elite group of security agents who traveled to major airports within the United States and abroad to conduct covert penetration testing of airport security systems, in order to provide the FAA with realistic data on the state of aviation security. Mr. Dzakovic, who is currently employed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), alleged to OSC that officials within the FAA’s division of Civil Aviation Security (CAS) had deliberately covered up Red Team findings that reflected negatively on the airline industry.

    Last February, Special Counsel Elaine Kaplan concluded that Mr. Dzakovic’s disclosures established a substantial likelihood of an abuse of authority and a substantial and specific danger to public safety. Therefore, in accordance with her authority under 5 U.S.C. 1213, Special Counsel Kaplan sent the disclosures to Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta, for an investigation and report.

    Secretary Mineta assigned the investigation to the Office of the Inspector General, Department of Transportation (OIG). Subsequently, at Special Counsel Kaplan’s request, Secretary Mineta asked Admiral James M. Loy, then Under Secretary of Transportation for Security, to identify the corrective actions that TSA had taken, or would be taking, in response to the OIG’s investigative findings.

    In her letter to the President, transmitting the OIG Report and Admiral Loy’s letter, Special Counsel Kaplan observed that, while the OIG did not substantiate Mr. Dzakovic’s allegations of deliberate cover-up or suppression of negative Red Team results, “the OIG’s Report substantiates the crux of Mr. Dzakovic’s allegation: that the Red Team Program was grossly mismanaged and that the result was the creation of a substantial and specific danger to public safety.”

    Special Counsel Kaplan’s transmittal letter noted that:

“[t]he OIG found that ‘the Red Team consistently found and reported --throughout its existence -- high rates of test failure, reflecting often stark localized and systemic security vulnerabilities.’ Notwithstanding these findings, the security vulnerabilities continued, even after September 11, 2001, when the Red Team stood down and the OIG began to conduct undercover testing at the President’s request. The OIG itself noted ‘an alarmingly high incidence of testing failures’ during this interim period while TSA developed its own covert testing program. The OIG found that, even though the Red Team consistently reported serious security problems to CAS headquarters, its testing ‘generally did not have the desired effect of creating sustained improved performance by airport screening companies’.”

    Further, according to Special Counsel Kaplan’s letter,

“[t]he OIG Report identified a series of significant ‘programmatic weaknesses’ that led to this result. The ‘programmatic weaknesses’ ranged from a failure to implement standard operating procedures for conducting testing to a failure to establish procedures to ensure that negative test findings were effectively addressed and corrected.”

    Admiral Loy, responding on behalf of Secretary Mineta, outlined a number of specific steps that TSA has taken and will be taking, in response to the findings in the OIG Report. He assured Special Counsel Kaplan that “the days of the old FAA Red Team are gone.” “Also gone,” Admiral Loy stated, “are the performance levels of the past and the construct of having a Federal agency report on the performance of regulated industry employees by sending reports to headquarters that were never acted upon.” Admiral Loy observed that he has “insisted that we completely discard” what he called a “failed system.” He committed to make system-wide adjustments based on lessons learned in the testing operations; he also promised to “raise the bar routinely in the interest of continuous improvement.”
 
    In her letter, Special Counsel Kaplan concluded that the OIG’s investigation and the findings in the OIG’s Report appear reasonable and that the information supplied in TSA’s letter fulfills the statutory requirement that the agency identify the corrective actions it intends or plans to take in response to the findings in the OIG Report. She noted, however, that Mr. Dzakovic had raised concerns about the adequacy of the TSA’s new testing program. She recommended that, given the paramount interests at stake, these concerns should be addressed in the context of any oversight that occurs in the wake of this investigation.

    Special Counsel Kaplan also expressed her concern that Admiral Loy’s letter did not address what has been done with respect to those individuals at higher levels within FAA CAS who mismanaged the Red Team and failed to take effective action to improve airport security. She observed that Mr. Dzakovic alleges that some of these individuals continue to have roles in aviation security, either at TSA or as private contractors. She suggested that these issues should also be considered in the context of subsequent oversight proceedings.

    Special Counsel Kaplan also noted her concern about Mr. Dzakovic’s current employment status. She observed that it was unclear why a valued senior member of the FAA Red Team, like Mr. Dzakovic, was not given a role in the creation or operation of TSA’s new covert testing program. She further observed that although Admiral Loy’s letter states that Mr. Dzakovic has been assigned to a new position that will make full use of his experience, Mr. Dzakovic continues to assert that his new assignment (like the one that preceded it) involves “make-work” and does not befit someone of his training and background. She noted that Mr. Dzakovic’s allegations of retaliation are the subject of a pending prohibited personnel practice complaint before OSC and that his allegations would be vigorously investigated.

    Finally, in her letter, Special Counsel Kaplan publicly recognized and thanked Mr. Dzakovic “for the courage he has displayed in coming to OSC with his disclosures.” She noted that “by coming forward, he has brought public attention to issues of great national importance.” She urged the President and Congress “to continue to take advantage of his expertise and insight into aviation security matters, as [they] consider the import of the findings of this investigation.”

    Copies of Special Counsel Kaplan’s transmittal letter and the investigative report are available at OSC’s website, www.osc.gov.

    Among its other functions, the Office of Special Counsel provides federal employees with a secure channel for blowing the whistle on violations of law, rule or regulation, gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety. OSC requires agencies to conduct investigations whenever it finds a substantial likelihood that a federal employee’s disclosures demonstrate the existence of one of these conditions. The agency must then report its findings as well as any corrective and/or disciplinary actions taken to OSC. After OSC reviews the agency’s report to ensure that it contains the necessary information and that its findings appear reasonable, OSC transmits the report to the President and the Congress with recommendations for further action, if appropriate.


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