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Actions Needed to Strengthen FAA's Safety Oversight and Use of Partnership Programs

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On April 3, 2008, the Inspector General testified on actions needed to strengthen FAA’s safety oversight and use of partnership programs before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. This testimony is part of the Office of Inspector General’s ongoing work on FAA’s handling of whistleblower concerns following a Southwest Airlines (SWA) airworthiness directive (AD) violation, as requested by the Committee. The Inspector General noted breakdowns in three areas of FAA oversight that contributed to the SWA event and illustrate the potential for system–wide weaknesses. Specifically, FAA’s: (1) partnership programs with air carriers, (2) national program for risk–based oversight, and (3) internal reviews and handling of employees who report safety concerns. The testimony focused on key changes that FAA must make to its oversight programs to address these areas. These include the following: (1) establishing an independent organization to investigate safety issues identified by FAA employees; (2) periodically rotating supervisory inspectors to ensure reliable and objective air carrier oversight; (3) revising its guidance on self–disclosure programs for air carriers; (4) implementing a process for secondary review of self–disclosures; (5) revising its post–employment guidance to require a “cooling–off” period for inspectors hired at air carriers that they previously inspected; (6) implementing a process to track field office inspections and alert the local, regional, and Headquarters offices to overdue inspections; and (7) developing a national review team that conducts periodic reviews of FAA’s oversight of air carriers. The Inspector General stated that his office will continue to examine FAA’s oversight approach from a national perspective, as requested by the Committee.