By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
The Fox Business Network (FBN) should be congratulated for launching a six-month investigation into the Federal Aviation Administration’s hiring practices, an investigation revealing complicity between the FAA and diversity groups such as the National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees (NBCFAE). The findings were revealed on “The Willis Report” last week on FBN.
The investigation resulted in an article by Adam Shapiro, exposing a story of corruption and attempts to stoke favoritism, where an FAA employee and head of an NBCFAE chapter worked to increase the likelihood that minority candidates would succeed under the FAA’s new hiring practices.
Ironically, one minority applicant, Matthew Douglas, a Native American, received “a perfect score, 100, on the FAA’s old screening test called the Air Traffic Selection and Training exam, or AT-SAT,” Shapiro reports. The FAA disregarded Douglas’ scores and the scores and qualifications of about 3,000 other graduates from accredited programs, according to Shapiro.
“Like several other young men and women pursuing air traffic control degrees, Douglas borrowed thousands of dollars, $30,000 in his case, to earn an FAA accredited degree from programs the FAA calls Collegiate Training Initiative or CTI Schools,” writes Shapiro. “The FAA created the CTI program more than 20 years ago to provide the agency with a reliable source of qualified air traffic control applicants.”
Shapiro points out that “It takes several years of study to acquire the complex skills necessary to become an air traffic controller, or ATC. It’s considered among the highest pressured jobs in America.”
What happened to Douglas is yet another scandal of the Obama administration, though no one in the media is calling it that. It’s one thing to lower standards when you’re filling positions at the Department of Commerce, or adding another bureaucrat at the Department of Transportation, where people’s lives are not at stake on a moment-by-moment basis. But doing so for air traffic controllers is truly an outrage, and a scandal.
“But just as Matthew Douglas prepared for a new year and a new life, the FAA dropped a bomb. On December 30, 2013 the FAA threw out his AT-SAT score, CTI diploma and recommendations from his CTI program administrators,” reports Shapiro. “In fact, the FAA threw out the AT-SAT scores and CTI qualifications of an estimated 3,000 CTI graduates and military veterans who were all previously designated ‘well qualified’ to become air traffic controllers. The FAA told them all to start over. But this time, when they applied for a job, their college degrees and previous military experience would mean nothing. They would now compete with thousands of people the agency calls ‘off the street hires;’ anyone who wants to, can walk in off the street without any previous training and apply for an air traffic control job. The FAA’s only requirements, to apply, are be a U.S. citizen, have a high school diploma, speak English and pass the FAA’s new BQ, Biographical Questionnaire. What Douglas and thousands of other CTI graduates didn’t know was that the FAA was planning these changes long before the agency made them public.”
But Moranda Reilly, a woman who scored lower on the same test for which Douglas scored a perfect 100, joined the NBCFAE, and received preferential treatment through the help of air traffic controller Shelton Snow. He sent her and other applicants a recorded message last February instructing them how to fill out the new take-home biographical questionnaire.
“Keep in mind we are trying to maximize your opportunities,” stated Snow, the local NBCFAE chapter president, in the recording, according to Shapiro. “I am going to send it out to each of you and as you progress through the stages refer to those images so you will know which icons you should select…I am about 99 point 99 percent sure that it is exactly how you need to answer each question in order to get through the first phase.”
“Reilly says Snow and other NBCFAE officials conducted workshops showing NBCFAE associate members…the correct answers to select on the [questionnaire] as well as key words to use on their resumés in order to be selected by FAA hiring personnel who were also NBCFAE members,” reports Shapiro.
In addition, according to Shapiro, “Candidates were, and still are, allowed to take the test unsupervised, on their own time and on their home computers over a two week period.”
On Friday, the NBCFAE denied the cheating allegations, though it failed to address any of the specific accusations.
Shapiro’s story outlining how the FAA is both wasting resources and threatening the security of America’s airlines, along with the flying public, received virtually no media attention. While The Wall Street Journal followed up on the story, they left out key details about the FAA’s ongoing corruption—casting the new hiring practices instead as the agency ending “an inside track,” while ignoring the perverse incentives created. But at least they reported on the issue. Most of the media chose to ignore it. AOL News actually carried a good story on it, clearly recognizing the Fox Business News story for uncovering a potential scandal. But in no way did AOL News link it to the policies of the Obama administration.
Shapiro’s story was really about a new inside track at the FAA—one based on diversity and preference instead of skill and merit as the primary criteria.
“Meanwhile, at least 28 controller applicants have brought discrimination claims against the FAA, including one seeking class-action status,” reports Susan Carey for The Wall Street Journal. “A redacted copy of that complaint alleges the FAA eliminated the preferential hiring list to discriminate against the scholastic group to benefit minority applicants even though, the complaint says, the earlier system wasn’t found to have hampered them.”
The widespread nature of this crisis should have indicated to Carey and other reporters that this issue needs to be investigated further.
Congress has shown an interest, as Congressman Randy Hultgren (R-IL) “is cosponsoring the Air Traffic Controllers Hiring Act of 2015 to force the FAA to abandon the BQ and restore preferred hiring status for CTI graduates and military veterans who score high enough on the AT-SAT to be designated ‘well qualified,’” reported Shapiro.
“The biggest objective is to make sure that our air travel is still the safest in the world and air traffic controllers are a big part of that,’” said Hultgren.
But the media are still ignoring the story. So what if our air traffic control centers are not based on merit? The safety of the flying public doesn’t hinge on having the best people in those towers, does it? Apparently some believe the goal of our federal government should be ethnic diversity consistent with the general population, not equal opportunity, regardless of the position being filled.
We wish the FAA would respect the flying public enough to treat its hiring practices like those of the National Basketball Association. The NBA could care less that, as of 2013, over three quarters of its players were African-American, whereas only 13% of all Americans were at that time. Is that because of discrimination, or because the NBA is a pure meritocracy? Only the best basketball players get to play. When it comes to air traffic safety, racially- and demographically-blind hiring standards should be applied across the country as well.