Crazy battle at the FAA, and other holiday weirdness

Having scanned Office of Special Counsel (OSC), Government Accountability Office, and agency inspector general output for years now, little surprises me.

Once in a while though, a really eye-popping release will come through.

The OSC notified Congress and the White House about a dispute between FAA headquarters and its Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC). A whistleblower said the controllers there used procedures for transferring aircraft from one sector to another that narrowed the safety margin between planes in the area. The procedures didn’t follow FAA rules, he or she said.

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So instead of demanding compliance, the ARTCC manager “implemented a change in standard operating procedures (SOPs)” to match what the controllers were doing. A subsequent investigation by an FAA headquarters team confirmed what the whistleblower, who is a controller, said in the first place.

The Special Counsel related another finding of the FAA’s own investigation. Namely, FAA found a “culture of noncompliance with certain elements of required coordination” of aircraft movements.

This all goes back to early 2018. The letter from OSC went out Wednesday. Sometime in between, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao herself told Counsel Henry Kerner that FAA headquarters “recommended” corrective action to the Jacksonville crew. And that it replaced the acting local air traffic manager with a new, permanent manager. But this week, OSC said nothing has changed in the procedures.

If you want to delve into procedures and documentation almost beyond human comprehension, try reading FAA operational stuff. Air traffic control, a life-or-death activity, ain’t something you approach casually. And by all measures, the FAA and its controllers are excellent at it. So how come a risky procedure goes on and on? Florida airspace is no country for a “culture of noncompliance.”

Elsewhere on the culture front, another headscratcher comes in the form of a letter from VA Secretary Bob Wilkie to Acting American Federation of Government Employees President Everett Kelley. (Our own Nicole Ogrysko obtained the letter.) In it, Wilkie asks Everett for “personal and public assurances” that the union will protect members from sexual harassment — by union officials!

Wilkie notes that AFGE represents some 260,000 VA employees.

Everett became acting prez when the elected president, J. David Cox, took a leave of absence last month. A Bloomberg story detailed lurid allegations against Cox of sexual indiscretions against male and female employees. Further reporting by Bloomberg last week uncovered allegations of a generally hostile work environment at AFGE headquarters, citing interviews with dozens of current and former staff members.

It’s an odd reversal. Normally unions are supposed to protect employees from the depredations of agency management. Here’s a cabinet secretary chiding a union about bad behavior by the union itself.

Wilkie no doubt has employees’ best interests in mind. But he’s also getting in a dig. VA and AFGE have been arguing over the agency’s implementation of White House executive orders on employee relations. AFGE and the other unions have resorted to lawsuits when negotiations have failed. It must be at least slightly satisfying to point out the moral turpitude of your opponents.

And here’s an interview I’d love to do but you’ll never hear it on my daily Federal Drive — not relevant to our market, unfortunately. But a PR outfit is pitching an interview about something called Persedo Technology, “a propiety [sic] polishing technique that removes harsh impurities and unwanted congeners from any liquor in minutes.” It’s something that would be used by distillers. The company claims it’ll make cheap whiskies taste expensive.

Just in time for the holidays.

Many years ago, when I worked at a tiny newspaper in a small state, I kept getting press releases (they mailed paper press kits in those days) for liquid brown sugar. Useless as this material was to me, it intrigued me because, after all, have you ever tried to pour a measure of regular brown sugar? I don’t know whether the product ever made it. But if some process can render moonshine into Connemara, I’m all for it.

And this: Persedo says its team is led by “principal scientist Dr. Benjamin Mosier — a three time winner of NASA’s INVENTOR OF THE YEAR award [their emphasis]. A man with 50 patents. NASA, better whisky. Houston, we have convergence.

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