The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Office of Audit and Evaluation (AAE) investigates alleged lapses in aviation safety and oversight; violations of FAA regulations, orders, standards, or policies; and other whistleblower disclosures. In December 2020, a Senate committee reported that AAE did not necessarily conduct independent, objective, or impartial investigations and evaluations. In January 2021, the Federal Aviation Administrator asked our office to conduct a review of the office’s practices. Our objectives were to evaluate whether AAE (1) aligned its practices for investigations of internal whistleblower safety disclosures with applicable investigative standards, benchmarks, or best practices; (2) documented sufficiency reviews of hotline investigations it referred to FAA lines of business (LOB) with best practices; and (3) complied with requirements in the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act of 2020.
What We Found
AAE’s investigative practices align with applicable quality standards. However, the office lacks comprehensive written standard operating procedures to reinforce its internal controls. In addition, AAE does not have a method to track and document sufficiency reviews of hotline investigations it referred to FAA’s LOBs. Specifically, AAE reviewers did not maintain documentation supporting their sufficiency review conclusions. As a result, AAE cannot demonstrate that its review of investigations it referred to LOBs was of quality and consistent. Finally, FAA has only partially met the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act’s requirements for AAE’s organizational structure. FAA reorganized AAE in February 2022—renaming one sub-office as the Office of Whistleblower Aviation Safety Investigations and adding an Office of Whistleblower Ombudsman. However, until FAA limits the duties of the AAE Director, which are currently broader, to the specific activities listed in the act, AAE will not have fully implemented the law’s requirements.
We made four recommendations to improve AAE’s compliance with applicable standards and statutory requirements for whistleblower investigations and hotline sufficiency reviews. FAA concurred with all four recommendations and provided appropriate actions and completion dates.
No. 1 to FAA
Establish and implement comprehensive written investigative policies and procedures for whistleblower investigations conducted by AAE that address best practice investigation standards in the areas of Qualifications, Independence, Due Professional Care, Planning, Execution, Reporting, and Information Management
No. 2 to FAA
Establish and implement a methodology for sufficiency reviews that provides greater tracking and documentation controls.
Closed on 03.24.2023
No. 3 to FAA
Hire additional staff, as planned, for the Office of Whistleblower Ombudsman.
No. 4 to FAA
Revise FAA Order 1100.167B to readjust duties that are inconsistent with the limitations established by the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act of 2020.