More heartbreak for FAA whistleblowers


Barbara Hollingsworth – June 14, 2011

Members of the FAA Whistleblowers Alliance were expecting more from Clayton Foushee Jr., head of the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Audit and Evaluation. Hoping that Foushee was finally willing to do something about the relentless retaliation reported by former FAA employees forced out for doing their jobs, they were once again disappointed.

"Older cases would have lesser priority," FWA Executive Director Gabe Bruno, who attended the meeting last week at the downtown offices of the Government Accountability Project, told The Washington Examiner. The former FAA manager 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 GAP Legal Director Tom Devine. Foushee admitted that FAA managers are still abusing their authority, but told the former employees there was nothing he could do for them.

However, Devine believes mothballing old cases is a big mistake. "Some old cases have the most chilling effect on would-be whistleblowers. Because they are symbols of intimidation and the hopelessness of seeking justice, they undercut AAE's ongoing work. They sabotage their own credibility by washing their hands of them."

One example is Edward Jeszka, a former flight standards inspector in Birmingham, Ala., whose FAA certificate was revoked after he reported that a supervisor was diverting tens of thousands of dollars for his own personal training -- and FAA management signed off on the fraud.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.

"AAE has been in business for over a year and hasn't helped anybody," complained Rich Wyeroski, a former Long Island inspector who says he was fired after reporting runway incursions and other serious safety violations. He claims 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 Counsel David Grizzle -- who is defending the agency against Wyeroski's accusations -- doesn't help. After 8 years, Wyeroski's case is pending before the Merit Systems Protection Board, which he describes as "standing on a high wire on top of a banana peel" because the board historically has sided with less than 2 percent of plaintiffs who make it that far.

Former FAA cabin/aviation safety inspector Kim Farrington, whose case in on 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.

Disheartened by Foushee's response, FWA members have 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 Alaskan Airlines 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 awarded Diefenderfer a large settlement.

Foushee did not return a telephone call seeking comment for this column.

Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Examiner's local opinion editor.

CORRECTION: Mr. Jeszka writes: "I turned in an inspector who used money inappropriately and that misuse of government funds was approved by the supervisor. The crash occurred while the inspector was on board the helicopter, which was being leased by the FAA. Sorry for the confusion."

Original story on Washington Examiner website