Wicker Introduces Legislation to Enhance FAA Accountability

September 10, 2020

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today introduced the FAA Accountability Enhancement Act. The legislation would establish the Office of the Ombudsman and the Office of Professional Responsibility in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), rename and reorganize the Aviation Safety Whistleblower Investigation Office, and bolster misconduct investigations and discipline management to enhance accountability across the agency.

“Over a year ago, the Commerce Committee launched an investigation into FAA safety oversight,” said Wicker. “We have received disclosures from over 50 whistleblowers, conducted numerous FAA staff interviews, and reviewed over 15,000 pages of relevant documents. The FAA Accountability Enhancement Act would address several of the findings uncovered to date. This legislation would improve policy and authority within the FAA to investigate and act upon aviation safety disclosures properly and strengthen protection for whistleblowers. It is important that we pass this bill to improve the way the FAA handles safety concerns raised by its own employees.”

The FAA Accountability Enhancement Act would: 

  • Rename the “Aviation Safety Whistleblower Investigation Office,” which was implemented as the Office of Audit and Evaluation, to the “Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection” (OAWP);
  • Require the OAWP to investigate complaints that it receives or that are referred to it. It clarifies that the office receives and investigates complaints and information concerning aviation safety, whistleblower retaliation, and related misconduct;
  • Allow OAWP to make recommendations for any disciplinary action arising from any of the office’s investigations;  
  • Direct the FAA to establish an Office of the Ombudsman, headed by an Administrator-appointed Ombudsman; 
  • Direct the Office of the Ombudsman to educate employees about whistleblower rights and prohibitions on retaliation. It would serve as an independent resource for agency employees to discuss their rights and remedies for any allegations of misconduct. The office would also coordinate with Human Resources, the OAWP, the Office of Professional Responsibility, and agency General Counsel as necessary;
  • Conduct outreach and training to mitigate misconduct and promote timely and appropriate processing of protected disclosures and allegations of reprisal; 
  • Direct the FAA to establish an Office of Professional Responsibility that would receive complaints of misconduct by managers within the Agency. The office would then assess those complaints and determine whether sufficient information exists to initiate an investigation;
  • Direct the FAA Administrator to establish an investigative policy that governs misconduct investigations according to best practices to ensure independent and objective investigations;
  • Direct the Administrator to establish a discipline management policy that governs adjudication of misconduct investigations. 

Click here to read the bill. 

The Committee released a fact sheet highlighting information on improper issuance of airworthiness certificates for 88 Southwest Airlines airplanes in November, 2019. Wicker also sent a letter to FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson expressing concern about these aircraft. In January, another fact sheet was released on alleged misconduct by FAA managers at the Flight Standards District Office in Honolulu, Hawaii. An update to this fact sheet was posted on June 17. The Committee is still reviewing ongoing requested documents from the FAA and additional information received from whistleblowers. The Committee Investigation Report will be publicly released in the coming weeks.