Lawmakers ask FAA to look at D/FW accusations

Jul. 14--Members of Congress are expressing concern about recent accusations that air traffic controllers and their supervisors at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport are covering up mistakes and in some cases blaming them on pilots.

Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., chairman of the House Aviation subcommittee, said Friday that he and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, have asked the Federal Aviation Administration to work closely with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

On Monday, Scott Bloch, who heads the Office of Special Counsel, sent several letters and investigative reports to the Transportation Department.

The documents detail accusations from two whistle-blowers working for the FAA at D/FW Airport that air traffic controllers were covering up mistakes.

The mistakes include letting airplanes get too close to one another in the air or on the runway.

Often, the mistakes would be incorrectly reclassified as pilot error.

Mike Conely, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association Local D10, which represents controllers in the radar room at D/FW Airport, said air traffic controllers shouldn't be blamed.

He said controllers pass on every "operational error" to their FAA supervisor, who is responsible for classifying it as a controller mistake or pilot error.

Bloch said in his letter to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters that these are problems similar to those brought to light in 2004 and 2005. But, he added, they were never completely fixed.

Costello said in a statement Friday that safety must be everyone's first priority.

"These are very disturbing reports, particularly because the alleged misconduct covers a long period of time and has been investigated previously," the statement said.

"I am also concerned about alleged whistle-blower retaliation."

One of the two whistle-blowers is Anne Whiteman, who is now working as an air traffic control supervisor in the tower at D/FW Air- port. The identity of the other whistle-blower is being kept confidential by Bloch's office.

Whiteman blew the whistle in 2004 on attempts to cover up air traffic control mistakes. That led to an investigation by the DOT's inspector general that backed her claims. She said then and continues to say now that she has been punished by her superiors and co-workers for speaking out.

In one of his letters to Peters, Bloch wrote that the retaliation was part of an "almost 10-year vendetta against her." He added that Whiteman is still "subjected to a cruel and demeaning working environment."

Bloch detailed specific instances of what he said was the retaliation in another report he sent to Peters. The Office of Special Counsel declined Friday to make that report public, calling it privileged information.

To see a copy of Bloch's report on D/FW, click on: http://media.star-telegram.com/smedia/2007/07/13/16/airreport.source.prod_affiliate.58.pdf

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dwethe@star-telegram.com

David Wethe, 817-685-3803

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