When a federal agency has chronic problems, the causes can often be traced to a long-term lack of effective congressional oversight. That appears to be the case with the Federal Aviation Administration. Once the gold standard of competence and excellence, the FAA's reputation has been sullied in recent years by management blunders and omissions that the aviation agency has shown little willingness to correct. The new House leadership should flex its oversight muscles before approving a new budget authorization bill for the FAA. Five years ago, when the last FAA budget authorization measure was approved, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., was a member of the aviation subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Now that Mica is chairman of the main congressional panel with oversight authority for the FAA, he should summon FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt to Capitol Hill and demand answers to several important questions that directly affect the safety of the flying public:
»?Why, after 17 years, has the FAA still not implemented a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation that commercial airline pilots receive continuous training on how to respond quickly and properly when the cockpit collision-avoidance alarm in their aircraft goes off, especially in light of the record number of errors made by air traffic controllers during the past decade?
»?Why has the FAA ignored multiple NTSB recommendations that lighter-than-air gliders be required to be equipped with technology to make them visible to other aircraft in their immediate vicinity?
»?Why has the FAA delayed development of a unique national glider transponder code that would make it easier for other aircraft and air traffic controllers to track them?
»?Since 2003, several former airline pilots with impeccable flight and performance records have accused top FAA managers of looking the other way when their medical licenses were unjustly revoked and they were hounded out of their jobs in retaliation for filing safety reports mandated under federal law. Why hasn't Babbitt started an investigation into their accusations?
»?Several FAA employees claim they were also forced out of their jobs after reporting safety problems despite the agency's Whistleblower Protection Program and numerous federal laws designed to protect employees who expose management problems and abuses. What is Babbitt doing to ensure that employees like former FAA manager Gabe Bruno -- who was forced out after exposing a fraudulent aircraft mechanics licensing ring -- are not punished for doing their jobs?
»?The Government Accountability Office has warned that NextGen, the glitch-plagued $40 billion global-positioning air traffic control system, which the FAA is developing to replace its current aging radar-based control system, could wind up costing taxpayers four times more than original estimates. What is the FAA doing to identify the causes of cost overruns and prevent their recurrence?
Mica should demand that Babbitt produce significant, measurable improvements in each of these areas during the coming year -- or resign and let somebody else take over the controls.