OSC Seal

 U.S. Office of Special Counsel
 1730 M Street, N.W., Suite 218
 Washington, D.C. 20036-4505


CONTACT: CATHY DEEDS, 202-254-3607, cdeeds@osc.gov
      WASHINGTON—The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today transmitted a report to the President and Congress detailing findings and recommendations regarding allegations of a substantial and specific danger to public safety. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is charged with moving America safely, but a Department of Transportation report confirms that air traffic personnel systematically covered up operational errors at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) for seven years, thereby jeopardizing air traffic safety.

      The whistleblower, Anne R. Whiteman, an 18-year air traffic controller at DFW, alleged that air traffic controllers and management at the DFW Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) routinely covered up serious operational errors and deviations involving aircraft. She disclosed to OSC that many incidents involving aircraft flying too close to each other, on average once a month, were often neither reported nor investigated, in violation of FAA’s Air Traffic Quality Assurance Order. This was a substantial and specific danger to public safety. Ms. Whiteman also described two specific incidents which should have been reported and provided data reflecting operational errors.

      The Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT OIG) investigated and substantiated Ms. Whiteman’s allegations. Their March 2005 report revealed an improper management practice in place for seven years that was responsible for underreporting and the failure to investigate operational errors. The DOT OIG concluded that the cover-ups, whether due to management policy or whether they occur on an incidental basis, represent safety deficiencies and undermine the public’s confidence in the air traffic control system.

      Under FAA policy, employees are supposed to report potential errors to the supervisor or controller-in-charge for investigation. The OIG found, however, that the language of the Quality Assurance Order was ambiguous on the requirement about use of playback equipment used to investigate suspected operational errors.

      Under DFW TRACON policy, investigation of suspected operational errors was limited to asking the controller involved whether separation had been lost. Under this honor system, if the controller responded in the negative, no further investigation was done. Only if the controller acknowledged a loss, or possible loss of separation, were the playback tools used to review the incident and determine whether an operational error occurred. This local policy ran counter to FAA national policy and resulted in significant underreporting of operational errors.

      A number of corrective actions were taken as a result of DOT’s investigation. DFW’s Air Traffic Manager issued a memorandum directing the immediate use of playback tools to investigate all suspected operational errors to correct DFW’s improper practice, and bring the facility in compliance with FAA national policy. DFW has been placed in a “no notice review” status for two years. FAA reassigned the facility quality assurance manager and selected a replacement. The facility manager, operations managers and supervisors were placed on Opportunity to Demonstrate Performance (ODP) status for failing to abide by FAA national policy on operational errors. Individual controllers were given training and placed on ODPs for failing to self-report errors, and one controller was decertified for committing a previously unreported operational error.

      The Special Counsel determined that the agency’s report contains all the information required by statute and the agency’s findings appear to be reasonable.

      Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch said, “It may be hard for the public to appreciate how difficult it is for whistleblowers to report wrongdoing in the government. Ms. Whiteman should be commended for bringing to light these serious operational errors that threaten our very air safety and security. Indeed, the system that protects our air service depends on the reporting of operational errors. There may have been incentives at FAA to underreport these errors, and now as a result of this disclosure, we hope those incentives have been or will be eliminated nationwide.”


OSC Analysis of DOT OIG Report  

OSC Transmittal Letter to the President


The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent investigative and prosecutorial agency and operates as a secure channel for disclosures of whistleblower complaints. Its primary mission is to safeguard the merit system in federal employment by protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially retaliation for whistleblowing. OSC also has jurisdiction over the Hatch Act and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. For more information please visit our web site at www.osc.gov or call 1-800-872-9855.