FAA asked to do more to fix morale
Agency should take broader approach to diversity, GAO says

By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Federal Aviation Administration needs to step up its efforts to promote diversity and do more to counter low morale, according to a report released Monday by the Government Accountability Office.

The GAO called on the agency to broaden its training programs rather than narrowly focusing on racial diversity in hiring. The GAO said the agency's initiatives "fell short" of diversity management practices at other organizations.

The FAA needs diversity training to "provide employees an awareness of their differences -- including culture, work style and personal presentation -- and an understanding of how diverse perspectives can improve organizational performance," the GAO said.

The FAA has long had employee morale problems. In 2009, the FAA ranked 214 out of 216 agencies in a survey of the best places to work in the federal government published by the Partnership for Public Service and American University.

In a statement, the agency said FAA Administrator J. Randolph Babbitt has been "working diligently to increase employee engagement and improve workplace satisfaction."

According to the GAO, the aviation agency's morale and culture problems could obstruct its ability to attract and retain tech-savvy workers. The GAO said the need for such workers will grow as the FAA moves to more advanced equipment, including more widespread use of satellite-based navigation technologies for tracking planes.

Like other federal agencies, the GAO said, the FAA is facing a wave of retirements that will compound the problems it faces. The FAA predicts that 38 percent of its employees who perform work that is "critical to FAA's mission" will be eligible to retire by 2013, according to the report. In the next five years, 42 percent of air traffic controllers, 31 percent of the specialists who maintain air traffic control systems and 48 percent of safety inspectors are projected to be eligible to retire, the GAO said.

Carl Goldman, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees' Council 26, which represents most of the workers at the FAA's Washington headquarters, said a lot of the agency's morale problems center on money. He said workers have long complained about the agency's complicated system of awarding pay increases.

For example, a portion of yearly raises is based on agency-wide performance goals, Goldman said. Sometimes the goals include criteria that most employees at the headquarters have no control over, such as the number of runway incursions at airports.

"There's no transparency in how awards are made, and people can get penalized for something they had nothing to do with," he said.

In August, the FAA resolved a years-long contract and pay dispute with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, its largest union. The agency said the NATCA contract success and other efforts to promote diversity would help raise employee morale.

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