Thursday, February 7, 2008

Like a Rented Goalie

Acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell was welcomed by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. As is customary, Mr. Sturgell gave an opening statement. Then, he was beaten like a rented goalie. I really didn't want trouble with PETA, so I went with Keith Olbermann's variation on a theme from back in his Sportscenter days.

To be fair, the Acting Administrator never had a chance to truncate the former part of his title. NATCA members, their Department of Government Affairs and the legislative committee had worked tirelessly to make sure that the Senate had all of the information prior to this hearing. Personally, I have been telling Senator Schumer's office for months that Mr. Bobby Sturgell is directly responsible for the dismantling of the aviation system in the United States.

Sturgell touts the safest five-year period in aviation history. Let me tell you, it is the will and skill of the controllers and pilots that are keeping airplanes from swapping paint. No one likes to admit there is a problem or that they don't have the tools to do their job. Mr. Sturgell and his band of minions are like a group of drug addicts hanging out on the street corner looking for more dope. The worse their addiction gets, the less apt they are to admit they have a problem. Face it Mr. Sturgell: We know you have a problem; the America people know you have a problem and the United States Congress knows you have a problem. The sooner you admit it, the sooner we can get you help. That's my new slogan: put down the pipe, we're here to help you.

This doesn't have to be this way. You could have walked in day one and changed everything. You had ample opportunity to reverse the jailhouse rules your predecessor imposed on my workforce. You could have given the new kids more money. Singlehandedly, you could have stemmed the wave of retirements, turned this ship north and you would have been greeted by a hero's welcome at every FAA facility and, I dare say at the Senate Thursday morning. Instead, your workforce hates you, they hate what you stand for and you left Capitol Hill on Thursday, dead man walking, hat-in hand – and your head still in it. I'm sure you'll wake up today and wonder where it all went wrong. I hope you read this – we're here to help.

In case you missed it, here are some of the highlights, courtesy of NATCA Media Director and former sports writer Doug Church. He's a great guy for a Red Sox fan! (Man, that's two Red Sox fans that I admire!)


Sen. Lautenberg: "As the FAA deputy administrator the past five years, Sturgell has overseen misguided policies. Our nation's air traffic controllers are overworked and understaffed and FAA refuses to negotiate in good faith. 60 hour work weeks are not uncommon in retail and manufacturing but that is far above standard for ATC. In addition, FAA allows dangerous and unnecessary safety risks on our runways and that is confirmed by GAO report recently. Quick actions of controllers and pilots are the only things that sometimes prevent catastrophic collisions. Bush Administration failures have led to one of worst years for flight delays ever. FAA is forcing hundreds of thousands of residents in NY/NJ to deal with more jet noise as it reroutes flights; result is decreased quality of life. I regret to say I do not believe President Bush's choice for FAA administrator is the right choice. This view is held by many Senators."

Sen. McCaskill: "I have a horrible fear that something dramatic and tragic is going to happen. And I have a sense of urgency about this and I would like to give you a minute to try and tell us what sense of urgency you have."

Sen. Boxer: "What does FAA consider appropriate work schedule for controllers? So you think 10 hrs a day, six days a week will lead us to safe skies? What we just heard is that Mr. Sturgell believes that a six-day week, 10 hrs a day is a fair work schedule for our controllers. You stand by that? GAO reported that 20 percent of controllers at 20 facilities working that long week. Is that acceptable?"

Senator Lautenberg: "The lack of an agreement has led to a mass exodus of controllers. Are you listening to employees at the bargaining table?" (Sturgell, "We're working on improving our relations") Senator: "If you are working to improve it, it must have been deficient in the past."


The nominee was asked about controller fatigue and he blamed the controllers. Mr. Sturgell told the Senate that controllers are responsible for managing their off time, to report for work ready for duty. He said they are working on mandatory training for managing fatigue.

Here's the decoder ring: six-day weeks, ten-hour days, mandatory overtime, discipline for "exhibiting a sleep-like pattern" while at work (not while working airplanes – while on the clock even on a break) and sick leave is not appropriate for fatigue. Factor in that most facilities are working so short that they'd have to work overtime just to get briefed on managing fatigue that we would not have if the FAA would properly staff their facilities. I have more, but I'm too tired to go on.

The nominee was asked about overtime at FAA facilities, about six-day weeks, ten-hour days. Mr. Sturgell responded that large numbers of controllers volunteer for overtime. He stated that they are working on improving staffing at two dozen facilities.

First off, no one is lining up for six-day weeks, ten hour days. At those facilities, that is mandatory and assigned by the employer. The employees have no choice. At other places like Albany, controllers have been burnt out for a year on working overtime. The only people on the volunteer list for overtime are the young kids who are making so little money, they are relegated to Ramen noodles for dinner.

Mr. Sturgell knows that a return to the negotiated collective bargaining agreement, while perhaps a tough pill to swallow, is the golden key to unlocking all of this. The wave of retirements will cease immediately. Experienced controllers from all walks of life will be lining up for FAA careers. Existing FAA controllers will be lining up for promotions to these hard to staff facilities. The FAA knows this and still refuses to correct the problem. That is criminal and should be worthy of much more than a tongue lashing by the US Congress.

I want to publically thank the two Senators from New Jersey, Senator Lautenberg and Senator Menendez for standing up for what is right and blocking the nomination of Bobby Sturgell. Senator Lautenberg was quoted as saying, "It's time for the Bush Administration to nominate an administrator who solves transportation problems, rather than creating more of them." Amen Senator.


District 7 said...

Voluntary working overtime is the FAA's smokescreen. By claiming controllers volunteer to work, it appears, to the agency, there is no harm. The issue isn't voluntary or involuntary. The issue is being overworked, overstressed, over fatigued, and being burnt out.

If controllers volunteered to work 12 hours a day, would the FAA allow it? What about 30 days straight? Why don't all controllers start volunteering to work 24 on and 48 off, like firefighters. See what the FAA says. You see, the FAA should be overseeing its workforce and insuring unsafe conditions are not occuring. Instead they are in denial, like Tony points out.

The FAA started defending 10 hour days and 6 day weeks with this voluntary argument. Time to throw the BS flag on this.

Anonymous said...

Citizens in Rockland County, New York – as well as citizens in New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, and elsewhere – were mouth-agape aghast while watching “Bobby” Sturgell’s evasive and false under-oath testimony and answers today on February 7, 2008, to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. We have thanked Congress for making Mr. Sturgell’s webcast testimony and the proceedings available to all of us, real-time, and now archived, through RealPlayer software, on the Senate website.

“Bobby” Sturgell arrogantly insulted Senators Boxer, McCaskill, and Lautenberg – among all of the rest of us - with his persistent utter refusal to answer the most simple of direct “Yes or No” questions. Sturgell made Watergate conspirators sound like they testified on sodium pentothal, by comparison. Senator McCaskill asked the core essential question: “Do you think air traffic controller fatigue was a contributing factor[?]” to runway incursion mishaps – and the slipperiest of eels, the eel of Sturgell, the Sturg-eel – sought to squirm away with the scripted slime of non-answers.

“Bobby” Sturgell, acting FAA head for three months, testified that he had no prior knowledge of the San Diego aircraft near-miss a few weeks ago?


Sturgell testified that he had no prior knowledge of recent Newark, NJ departures flying out in the wrong direction in the past few weeks?


“Bobby” Sturgell’s nomination as proposed FAA Administrator should not be confirmed. Instead, after he first personally apologizes to Senators Boxer, McCaskill, and Lautenberg, “Bobby” Sturgell should then be INDICTED - for contempt of Congress, for rendering perjured testimony under oath, and for already putting millions of otherwise-innocent and unsuspecting Americans in harm’s way. We have now faxed every Senator on the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, asking them to please refer this matter to the AG, IG, GAO, and a Special Prosecutor – and to please now cook this eel.

John J. Tormey III, Esq.

Anonymous said...

The image of Sturgell: