Who ya gonna call? In 1984, if I saw something weird in my house or perhaps something strange coming through my door, either I called Ghostbusters, the exterminator, or it was obvious that my in-laws were visiting. To this day it’s hard to tell the difference.
However, what if it’s something strange at your hangar or the weird flying habits of a pilot, now … who ya gonna call? Ah, that would depend on W-hot Line you want to pursue. Maybe you were fired unjustly or were discriminated against for refusing to sign-off an airworthiness release. The process you’d follow is different than if you witnessed unsafe fueling habits at the neighboring FBO. Investigating safety violations by the FAA is usually limited to one of two complaint process systems: the Whistleblower Protection Program (WBPP) or the Aviation Safety Hotline (ASH). Both programs are overseen by the Office of Audits and Evaluation, AAE-001, who authorizes AAE-030 to act on each complaint.
Two things we need to point out. First: Anonymity. The WBPP requires disclosure; no one is anonymous. The FAA withholds the complainant’s name during the investigation; post-investigation, all WBPP information falls under the Freedom of Information Act and can be disclosed. The Safety Hotline currently allows anonymity, but if the complainant calls in as anonymous, who’re we going to respond to? Think about it.
And two: Every complaint is investigated. All submissions are taken seriously and acted upon, perhaps not within the complainant’s desired timeframe. Documents have to be researched and people interviewed, which takes time.
The WBPP was instituted with the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, and made aviation-specific with the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21) in 2005. An investigation brings the authority of the FAA to bear on behalf of the individual(s) wronged by their employer … as it pertains to safety. Discrimination can be termination or improper discipline. To ensure impartiality, investigators aren’t assigned from the same region as the complainant. For better clarification, please visit the WBPP website: www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/whistleblower.
Flight Standards still investigates WBPP per FAA Order 8900.1, Volume 11, Chapter 3: the WBPP ‘protects covered employees of air carriers and their contractors and subcontractors …’ The investigation looks for violations where the employee declined to participate in, or circumstances in which the employee was compelled to commit a violation.
Investigate and document
To conduct an investigation, the FAA contacts the complainant(s) and documents details through interviews; they then confirm the complainant’s information and document. The investigation then determines any corroborating witnesses who are interviewed and their input documented. This often reveals other employees experiencing similar discriminations, who will be interviewed and, that’s right … documented. To be fair, reliable company personnel are interviewed and their side documented.
The FAA investigator collects all evidence, interviews, and documentation before taking enforcement action/corrective action against the employer (if necessary) and prepares the investigation report, or closes the matter out with no action. The entire investigation shouldn’t exceed 45 days.
Immunity for reporting
Won’t the FAA pursue a violation against someone (the employee) who violated a rule? If said employee reports the violation to the FAA, then Order 2150.3B – Compliance and Enforcement Program, dictates procedures providing ‘immunity from enforcement action to persons who provide information about violations’ with a Special Enforcement Consideration (SEC).
NOTE: submitting a complaint doesn’t guarantee WBPP status. When the employee approaches the FAA, the inspector advises the employee about the WBPP and provides a SEC, if necessary. The investigation and resulting decisions are often coordinated with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and if necessary, the Department of Labor (DOL).