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Alleged Cover-up of Operational Errors at DFW TRACON

Project ID: 

In July 2007, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) referred whistleblower allegations to the Secretary that managers at FAA’s DFW Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility “covered–up” air traffic controller operational errors and deviations by misclassifying them as pilot deviations or “non–events,” or by failing to investigate them. The Secretary referred the allegations to our office for investigation.

In short, for the second time in three years, we substantiated whistleblower allegations that DFW TRACON management underreported operational errors/deviations–creating, at a minimum, the appearance of cover–up. Our previous investigation exposed a seven–year management practice at this TRACON of improperly investigating and, therefore, underreporting operational errors. This time, we found that in response to the findings and recommendations of our prior investigation, DFW TRACON management went through the process of investigating suspected operational errors/deviations, but routinely misclassified them as pilot deviations or non–events. In both investigations, we found a lack of proper oversight within FAA. In the present case, failures by the TRACON’s Quality Assurance office and the Headquarters–based Safety Service of FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO–Safety) enabled DFW TRACON management again to underreport operational errors/deviations.

Based on the gravity of these findings and the safety implications, on April 18, 2008, we issued a report to FAA’s Acting Administrator recommending he take action to preclude recurrence of underreported operational errors at DFW TRACON. In response to our report, the Acting Administrator issued a memorandum to the Secretary accepting all of our recommendations and committing to additional actions to prevent future unreported operational errors/deviations at DFW TRACON and all air traffic facilities. We reviewed the Acting Administrator’s response and believe that FAA’s actions address our findings and recommendations. Nonetheless, because FAA did not effectively carry out its previous oversight commitments, the Secretary directed that the Acting Administrator report regularly to her on the status of FAA’s corrective actions.

Our April 18, 2008, report of investigative findings and recommendations is attached below.

To access the OSC’s documents, go to: