The Federal Aviation Administration's safety-enforcement process is slow to react, communicates poorly, dispenses justice unevenly and speaks with many voices, a Transportation Department report said yesterday.
The report by a department task force on one of its own agencies is the first in a promised series of safety audits that Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole announced on NBC's "Meet the Press" 20 months ago.
The report mirrors concerns that FAA critics have voiced for years, especially in the competitive atmosphere fostered by airline deregulation, and comes at a time when hijackings and crashes have focused unusual attention on the safety question.
"The issue now under review," the report said, "is whether or not the FAA itself has and can keep pace with the industry and the environment." It said that the report's authors were "continually impressed with the dedication and professionalism of FAA employes." However, it said, the FAA has:
* "Difficulty in formulating and carrying out actions in a timely manner."
* A "lack of uniformity in the interpretation of regulations and policies."
* A "lack of effective communication within the organization, with the aviation community and with the public."
* "A degree of autonomy at regional offices and in some offices within headquarters sufficient to inhibit the accomplishment of program objectives."
The report made 13 recommendations to deal with the issues it identified. The recommendations stressed improving timeliness and uniformity of effort, and attempting to coordinate FAA's national intentions with the FAA effort that actually occurs in its regional offices.
For example, the report cited the question of improving fire retardant materials in commercial aircraft interiors, "an issue in commercial aviation since the late 1940s," the report said. The most recent standard was written in 1972, and a new rule is still open after several years of debate.
The report also devoted a major section to the safety of general aviation -- business and pleasure flying. It listed seven general aviation safety issues, ranging from the adequacy of pilot training to the question of crash worthiness in some small aircraft, and suggested several actions. The FAA has a special general aviation safety study under way.
FAA Administrator Donald D. Engen said the report's recommendations were "on the mark. We already have a number of reforms in process that will go a long way toward achieving the goals of many of these recommendations," he said.
Anthony J. Broderick, the FAA's associate administrator for aviation standards, called the recommendations constructive and said a plan for implementing them will be sent to the department within a week.
Audits are planned or under way at other department agencies, including the Federal Railroad Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Urban Mass Transportation Administration.