At the FAA, a Word Better Left Unsaid

Monday, March 26, 2007

"Staffing" is apparently a controversial word at the Federal Aviation Administration, which has been battling its controllers over manpower at its towers and other facilities.

The word causes such ire that supervisors are being told they should use it judiciously -- even when describing what appear to be "staffing" problems.

At least that is the message coming from a top FAA manager in North Carolina.

In an e-mail to other supervisors last week, Thomas Denny got right to the point in the subject line: "The use of the word 'STAFFING.' "

"Be advised that anytime a facility uses the word STAFFING, you can rest assured it will be seen immediately in writing at the Headquarters level," wrote Denny, a top manager of the agency's operations in busy Charlotte. "If for any reason you use the STAFFING word, PLEASE advise me ASAP."

Denny, who could not be reached for comment, goes on to say that a control tower recently could not fully operate because a controller was sick. "It got reported up the line as a STAFFING issue, when it was a SICK LEAVE (or scheduling issue)," Denny wrote.

FAA officials said Denny was trying to ensure that supervisors are precise about how they report such things so the agency can react appropriately. As FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey said through a spokeswoman: "Do we need more recruits or more flu shots?"

The e-mail made its way into the hands of controllers. They do not share their supervisors' dread of the word.

"They mention staffing seven times -- in a memo that is about how staffing isn't a staffing issue," said Pat Forrey, the controllers union president. "It's comical."

-- Del Quentin Wilber

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