The FAA Big Stick Again…

A few weeks ago I recounted an incident I had at work with my Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic control supervisor.

In it I talked about FAA management’s approach to dealing with  employees who either have professional disagreements with managers or raise safety concerns.

FAA management loves the “big stick” approach in addressing those situations. In the FAA if you speak up objecting to anything that management does (or doesn’t do) they bring out their big sticks to beat the employees down with.  They’re not interested in correcting the problem or doing a better job; only silencing the employees.

Field managers in the FAA have been encouraged by headquarters to beat down employees in order to show they’re really in charge.  The FAA admitted they were trying to institute a  “culture change” when they fired 11 employees at New York TRACON for not checking a box on a form just to make a point (all of whom got their jobs back).

There’s a leadership void within the FAA even though FAA management doesn’t realize it.  And the FAA definition of leadership is really just about power and control, regardless of what they say.

The next few paragraphs are just a rip-off of what was posted on the FAA Follies today.  The Follies has a much better (albeit longer) account of it all.

A few weeks ago Kevin (one of my coworkers/friends) wrote a comment to the Focus FAA “opinion” page that is written by an FAA headquarters manager that is paid by the taxpayers to write propaganda for the FAA PR machine.  The original article was entitled “Executive, Heal Thyself”.

In it is the following (my emphasis):

Presumably we were made executives to lead — to make those who work for us successful, and thus make the organization successful. Leadership is not about control or power. In fact, it is not primarily about us at all. It’s about the employees. Until we have that Copernican epiphany, realizing that we are not at the center of this workplace universe, things will probably never change.

Hmmm, seems like a lot of the FAA managers didn’t get that memo…

Kevin’s response was entitled “Boot to the Throat” and is found here and in part says:

You’re not serious are you? There’s been no leadership exemplified by FAA management for far too many years. There’s been a “boot-to-the-throat” mentality and a demoralizing of the workforce (controllers), certainly, but there’s been no leadership.

In it Kevin also criticizes the decision to continue giving raises to FAA management while freezing air traffic controller pay (which I previously blogged about here).

A manager at another FAA facility felt the need to respond to that comment on the same website.

I’m finally being compensated for having to deal with your negative, whining, everyone’s-an-idiot-but-yourself attitude you so clearly expressed in your little written tantrum.

It once again shows the mean, vindictive, defensive, petty, jumping-to-conclusions, indicting-without-facts attitude from this manager is all too common within the FAA.  And it demonstrates how FAA management’s first instinct is to “circle the wagons” and rationalize their defenseless approach instead of acknowledging how screwed up their attitude/approach really is.

If he had met Kevin he might realize that the accusations he made based solely on the comment Kevin wrote are totally inaccurate and under the circumstances completely absurd.  But apparently this manager doesn’t actually need to know anything about someone to turn a complaint/observation into a personal attack.

Any time there is criticism from a controller towards a manager it’s time for the management team to brandish the big stick!

It’s another perfect example of exactly the fine adult “leadership” the FAA has to offer…


  1. Nicely said, Tim.

    The real casualty in all of this is that the FAA had a chance to affect real culture change in a positive way with the new wave of controllers coming through the doors as many of us head for the exits. I don’t think they could’ve done a better job of making certain that they’ve set themselves up for another generation of us vs them. And why?

  2. You’re right Kevin in that they’ve soured an entire new generation of controllers to FAA management right away.

    The only (sad) conclusion I can come to is that unfortunately I don’t think most FAA managers know how to manage in any other way. And it doesn’t appear that headquarters is encouraging and/or teaching any other approach either…

    Thanks again btw for writing the comment that let another member of the FAA management team show his true colors again for the world to see!

    And I have to wonder if it all will affect your rating next year…

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