Whistleblower” is a term whose original roots go back to the 19th and 20th century when police walking their beat on both sides of the Atlantic blew their whistles to summon help when they saw a crime being committed. But in the last 20 years the real meaning of the term “whistleblower” has been savaged by bad press and degraded to self-serving by individuals who blew the whistle for their own gain.
Today, I want to talk to you about two modern day whistleblowers: C. “Bobby” Boutris, an FAA Aviation Safety Inspector (ASI) with Southwest Airlines Certificating Office, and Douglas Peters, an FAA ASI with American Airlines Certificating Office. They testified this April 3rd in front of Representative Oberstar’s House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that the FAA gave Southwest Airlines a pass when it comes to complying with Airworthiness Directives and special inspections.
Before I continue, I need to give you some background information on what protection a federal employee has from retaliation from his or her employer when they blow the whistle. I took the following paragraph from Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia:
Whistleblower Protection Act
“Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 is a U.S. federal law that protects federal whistleblowers or persons who work for the government who report agency misconduct. A federal agency violates the Whistleblower Protection Act if it takes or fails to take (or threatens to take or fail to take) a personnel action with respect to any employee or applicant because of any disclosure of information by the employee or applicant that he or she reasonably believes evidences a violation of a law, rule, or regulation; gross mismanagement; gross waste of funds; an abuse of authority; or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.
“The law created the Office of Special Counsel (OSC, www.osc.gov), charged with investigating complaints from bureaucrats that they were punished after reporting to Congress about waste, fraud, or abuse in their agencies. The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a major blow to government whistleblowers when, in the case of Garcetti v. Ceballos, 04-473, it ruled that government employees do not have protection from retaliation by their employers under the First Amendment of the Constitution when they speak pursuant to their official job duties. The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, which has monopoly jurisdiction over these cases, has interpreted existing law in such a way that whistleblowers have lost 178 of the last 180 court cases relating to protection.”
With this latest Supreme Court ruling, any federal government employees who want to stand up and do the right thing are really putting their careers, their retirement, their reputations, and their family’s future on the chopping block. They stand alone, with no real protection under the law. Whistleblowers are either complete fools or the most courageous people you will ever meet this side of being in an actual combat situation.
Southwest and the FAA
As I write this article not a day has gone by since Congressman Oberstar’s April 2 and 3 hearings on the FAA’s treating Southwest as a customer instead of a regulated airline that this has failed to make the news. According to Congressman Oberstar’s press release of April 3, the FAA allowed Southwest to continue to operate 117 aircraft in noncompliance with an Airworthiness Directive and other mandatory inspections.
This was done so Southwest could conveniently schedule aircraft for inspection without disrupting its commercial schedule. Forty-seven B-737 aircraft continued in service without a fuselage crack inspection required every 4,500 hours. This inspection was the result of the Aloha accident in which 18 feet of the top fuselage blew off the aircraft in flight causing one fatality. The other 70 B-737 aircraft did not receive rudder inspection and were out of compliance for a year.
FAA inspectors say others in the agency allowed Southwest to skip critical safety inspections for years.
Whistleblowers say officials looked the other way.
The FAA said it will seek the fine from Southwest for flying 46 jets during nine months in 2006 and 2007 without performing required inspections for cracks in the fuselage.
The FAA removed its top regulator for flight safety in Texas, a step that could signal a shake-up after a breakdown in its oversight of Southwest Airlines.