Monday, April 6, 2009

A Time to Vent and a Time for Change

I was driving past my mom's townhome while chatting on the phone with my sister on the way into work this afternoon when I heard a car honk. It was Reid, my former trainee. He'd spotted me as he was heading home to get some sleep after working the day shift before heading back for tonight's all-nighter. He wanted to talk. My phone beeped a few seconds later and I told Jackie that I'd call her back.

"Hey, what's happening" I asked him as I switched over to his call. Before he could answer I told him that I heard he'd gotten a little fired up at work the other day over some nonsense. I let him vent for the next six miles as I continued my drive.

We last spoke a little over a week ago when he was telling me about his previous week in San Diego. He'd had a blast and was taking life on with a new, refreshed attitude. Just the sort of thing a vacation is supposed to do. I couldn't help but wonder how long it would take for our beloved employer to send that good attitude packing. I didn't share that with him because I didn't want to spoil his moment. He deserved it.

Apparently it didn't take long for the FAA to begin to undermine those warm fuzzy feelings Reid was having. Our Quality Assurance people are monitoring our radio conversation (read phraseology) unlike they ever have in the past and it's verging on becoming harassment. Actually, that's exactly what it is.

As I was signing into work a couple hours ago my supervisor gave me my most recent 'tape talk' (as we refer to them) to sign for. I had one error out of 131 transmissions. My error was saying "American thirty-two, expect light chop twenty minutes up the road." rather than saying, "American thirty-two, expect light chop two-zero minutes up the road." There is no provision for me to say the digits individually but who am I to argue and why would I bother to challenge it? It's not worth it. Reid is still learning that you can't fight city hall; certainly not the FAA's version of it. Believe me, I've tried and with my little blog I continue to make observations for whatever they're worth.

I know, no big deal...find something real to complain about. These things I occasionally highlight here are a very small part of a much larger problem and it is a problem especially when you see what's happening to the attitudes of young guys like Reid who only want to come to work and enjoy doing their job but are made to unnecessarily jump through hoops along the way. I can't imagine having the cynical attitudes many of the younger people have so early in their careers. It took me a full 24 years to reach the point they've achieved in less than 3 years.

There's plenty of good works that FAA management could focus on but they choose not to and I find that frustrating. I could nit-pick my daughter's every move but I doubt that would bring out the best in her. It would most likely have the opposite effect while at the same time strain our relationship. Why would I do that especially when she's a good kid?

Just to be clear; Reid has a great attitude but I'm sure he would be the first to admit that it could be better and that he wants for it to be. He's doing his part and the FAA is doing all they can to deny him that good feeling he gets when he's doing his job. Why?

I have no problem with management monitoring how we work and ensuring there's a high level of compliance; that's to be expected. It's how they go about that which troubles me and the motives behind those efforts. Those in management would do this agency and themselves a ton of good if they'd simply get out of the way and find something more useful to do. Treat us with respect and encourage an environment where we respect one another. That does not exist today and is so very far from being a reality. That's not to say that there aren't those in management who do their job well because there are. It's the tone at the top which trickles down that is unmistakable.

Many of my fellow controllers are growing impatient for the desired changes we assumed an Obama administration would bring with it. I think we were hopeful that FAA management would realize there's a new sheriff in town and begin whistling a different tune but that hasn't happened...yet. But why would they change? For management to begin operating any differently than they've been for the last several years before being ordered to do so would be seen as an admission that they've been wrong in labor/management issues and that's not going to happen. But, when change does occur, and it will, it's going to bring a smile to my face, to Reid's face and to a lot of other faces of good people who make up the real workers of this organization. You know, the only people in the FAA who have been denied pay raises that everyone else in the federal government has received the last three years.

For those who've enjoyed the last several years of a complicit administration and the power of the hammer over those you're supposed to be leading I have just one link for you. The K├╝bler-Ross model.

Are you listening, Frank Whiten?


John said...

I'll be smiling!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kevin,

I have learned my lesson many times over about not fighting city hall(FAA). I have always received reprimands in the past, even though sometimes I get the issue resolved because of the attention I have brought! The FAA mistakenly believes they are the true holders of safety. When you try to show them there are safety issues they tell you to shutup and do it. I have brought up several issues to the National evaluation team(QA) and they just shrug their shoulders and tell me that's the way we do it, or we don't have money. They don't disagree with me that there is a problem!!!!! If there ever is an incident that involves court action on these safety issues, I'll be the 1st to testify against the FAA

Pdog said...

If you don't continue to fight "city hall", then they have won. You have to point out the error of their ways on a constant basis. As Anonymous said "If there ever is an incident..." then by reporting that there was a problem in the past, you protect yourself in the future.

There is a reason they call the FFA the "Tombstone Agency" and when that accident happens I want to be able to say and prove that they could have prevented this from happening.

Tim said...

You can fight city hall. It just takes lots of energy and dedication (although inevitably results in frustration). FAA management knows if they stonewall most complaints their originators will lose interest and go away.

But I agree with PDog that you also just can't give up, especially given the job we do.

At the very least we have a moral obligation to try to protect the flying public, beyond our practical day-to-day obligation to do the same in spite of misguided and dangerous FAA policies and orders.

It's also important to document the FAA's failures, both for the protection of controllers, and as a paper-trail should anything go terribly wrong because of those policies/orders.

It's certainly easier to just give up and stop fighting (and lots of controllers do that) but as I told Reid, if you really believe something is wrong, you should try to get it corrected.

And in the FAA that inevitably means dealing with FAA managers that refuse to admit they've made a stupid policy/order. These days that's happening even more than it used to since FAA management has decided to "take back" the FAA from those pesky controllers.

I applaud Reid (and encourage him) to stand up for what's right, in spite of FAA management defending what is clearly idiotic.

Hopefully someday they'll have controllers involved in those decisions again so that we end up with more reasoned and useful policies and orders created by those who actually know what air traffic controllers do every day.

Kevin said...

I agree that a paper trail is vitally important to attempt to keep management from brushing your concerns aside.

My attitude about not wanting to waste my time with stupid phraseology interpretations speaks to a degree of apathy I have toward wanting to do the right thing. I don't want to approach my job this way but it's where I am.

I'd like to think I'd get behind the more important stuff and see that through but we all saw the brick wall I ran up against exactly one year ago in Area 5. In the end I had to remove myself from the process due to mounting frustration. A win for them and a big loss for me. I will have the last word though one day in this blog. Thanks Pdog for the paperwork you supplied me with yesterday.