This quote is also from my first report to the FAA local MIDO office, when I was naive and chose not to believe all those press reports about the FAA being the "handmaiden of the aviation industry" and a "tombstone agency." This quote is from the section of my report noted in the first quote below that I deleted to make that quote shorter and I stated that I may quote later. This quote from that section details my history as an inspector at Boeing, and some of the other corrupt Boeing QA supervisors I've worked for over the years:
My knowledge of specifications I brought from Everett Site inspection experience, and my knowledge learned in my spare time and in inspections at PSD, resulted (and to this day still results) in me finding more defects than inspectors who did not/do not refer to the specifications or drawings during their inspections, which further exacerbated my reputation as a "thorough" inspector. A novice might think that being a knowledgeable, thorough inspector that attempted to perform inspections per procedure/drawing/specification would be appreciated at a World-Class aerospace company like the Boeing Company, but this is not the case, especially for the Manufacturing Leads and Manufacturing Supervisors. They saw the defects I found due to my extra knowledge and thorough inspection method, some that had never been written before by inspectors at PSD, and the resulting rework that had to be done as a threat to their cost and delivery schedules, which in my experience as a mechanic working for them directly for nine years and indirectly for them as an inspector for over five years, were the only things they seemed to care about. They only seemed to care about quality when a rejected item, or an inspector that still tried to do his job after they had finished building the product, even though the product was already late, would interfere with the other two things they cared about.
It seemed, when I arrived, that Manufacturing had the Quality Organization in their pocket at PSD (I would use a more descriptive, detailed analogy, but I want to keep this clean), but then I, an inspector who believed in the FAA-approved Boeing Quality System, and believed in acting ethically and with integrity to the greatest extent while still holding onto my job, showed up.
Some Mfg Supervisors I’m sure would have preferred not to have had any inspectors at PSD, but a thorough inspector such as me was the last thing they wanted to have. My knowledge of fastener types gained as a mechanic installing them and an inspector inspecting them resulted in me being able to tell immediately when a mechanic had installed the incorrect fasteners or had installed them incorrectly. Most other inspectors never seemed to check to see if the correct bolt, washer, or nut was installed. I would always try to check that the correct fasteners were installed, and installed correctly. Most other inspector’s write-ups seemed for the most part deal with only the fasteners being loose, or obvious items like the use of NAS1802 passivated screws in place of NAS1801 cadmium plated screws or vice-versa.
In the Strut Shop, it seemed I gained no friends in Manufacturing when I even inspected the electrical marker installations per the drawing. I would do that so I wouldn’t have to look at the drawing so much when the shop put up the wire bundle job, the most complex and time consuming job to inspect in the area, for inspection. I would only then have to match the electrical connector and terminal identifications up with the marker identifications, reducing my perusal of the drawings to other items and speeding inspection on that job, avoiding some of the inevitable complaints to my management that would result if shop thought I was slowing them down by finding too many defects, whereas the reality was their poor workmanship, and the flagging of such, was what really slowed my inspections down when they often occurred.
But that was always the way it was at PSD. Shop for the most part thought inspector’s jobs were optional, as they saw many inspectors, some trying to do their job, like me, while also seeing the roller stamping inspectors that were also in the Quality Organization, the worst of which were actually two of our three lead inspectors. There was no consistency in inspector’s inspection methods at PSD, and shop, by experience, and our Quality Management, by constant harping from the Line Inspectors, knew it. I learned it well. The shop knew who the roller stamping inspectors were, those inspectors who would buy things with minimal, or no, inspection. They would make sure you knew about it, and would use those inspector’s non-inspection against those inspectors who would try to do their job.
A case in point occurred on or about 8/9/99, when I was staying over after my usual first shift to finish up some work. (Name), a second shift mechanic on the 747/767 EBU line, came up to me while I was sitting at a computer. He mentioned some discrepancies I had documented on one of his jobs, I think earlier that day, or the day prior. He accused me of picking on him, as other inspectors rarely found defects in his work. I told him I didn’t care who had done the job, I always did my inspection the same way, regardless of who did the work. He grew animated, asking why there was no consistency in what one inspector would write up compared to what another would write up. I told him that I knew of the problem he was speaking of and agreed with him that it was a problem, and that our management had been made aware of the problem, but was doing nothing about it. I told him it was them, QA Management, that had the only authority to fix the problem of inconsistency in inspection, and that I had done all I could do to bring that to their attention. I told him that the only thing I had control over was the way that I inspected, and I did that consistently every time.
True, I had long known about "inconsistencies in inspection methods" between inspectors at PSD. This would be obvious when I would do torque inspections. After the mechanic would finish torquing the fasteners, they often would immediately return the wrench to their tool tote, or set it down on a work table, thinking the inspection was complete. I frequently had to ask to look at the torque wrench to check the setting and certification expiration date. This surprised many mechanics, and mainly happened when I rotated into an area, replacing a particular inspector who had been rotated elsewhere in the plant. Some mechanics took exception to me asking to look at the torque wrench, accusing of me picking on them and not trusting them, while their other previous inspectors had always trusted them. Despite me being hassled thus because of what I thought was simply another common incompetent inspector, which I knew had always existed at Boeing since I was a Door Mechanic on the Door Crew, I always consistently did my job as I knew it was supposed to be done, and always asked to look at the torque wrench, or would go look at it after the mechanic set it down. Mechanics really didn’t like it when they reset the torque wrench before I had looked at it, and I made them re-torque all of the fasteners again. Anyway, I did my job, and did it consistently.
Another anecdote that illustrates how bad our inspector’s consistency still is at PSD, is a comment I heard recently from a mechanic while inspecting a job on or about 01/13/02, a weekend overtime day. I was using the basic inspector’s tools, a flashlight and mirror, to inspect the job, when (name), an EBU mechanic, who was watching me inspect, said "why do you use a mirror to inspect? Nobody else does." That was a new one. I had heard many stories from mechanics about how nonchalant some inspectors were about doing their jobs or stamping off jobs, but I’d never heard that comment before.
Anyway, (the previously noted mechanic) continued ranting about that, or some other subject, I don’t remember. He said something that crossed the line of what I thought was appropriate in his rant. I told him that I considered what he was doing as harassment simply because I was doing my job, and I told him the conversation was over. After this conversation, I sent an email to the second shift QA Lead, (name), telling him how I felt that we shouldn’t have to deal with such harassment just for doing our jobs. He spoke to (name) and his Supervisor about the incident. That was the only time I had spoken up about a mechanic due to their "crossing the line" of what I thought was the inappropriate harassment of me during performance of my inspection job.
Anyway, back to the subject before I broke away: During these marker job inspections I noticed that the 747/767 drawings required the fan cowl markers to be below the receptacles on the fan cowl disconnect panels. The drawings didn’t say why, but I guessed it was so the airline mechanics could see the markers when they hooked up the engine plugs to these receptacles, as they wouldn’t be able to see them readily with the fan cowl panels installed and open. I made the mechanics install the markers per the drawing requirements. This seemed to really infuriate the Manufacturing Lead and Manufacturing Management of the Strut Shop. The mechanics said they had installed them above the receptacles because there was more space and they didn’t have to trim them so much if they were installed there. I told them they would have to get the drawing changed or install them per the current drawing requirements. They grudgingly complied.
I failed to see why the other inspectors in the area had not written this item up before, as shop had apparently been installing them the same way for some time. I couldn’t believe that they were too scared to stand up to Mfg Management on something as clear as this requirement was on the drawing. As far as I know, the same requirement still exists today. It seemed that my fellow inspectors in the area were either too scared to stand their ground on drawing requirements, or didn’t care about them themselves. I failed to see why they didn’t seem to see "The Big Picture". Yes, I knew too, that even loose markers (FOD) could probably never cause a safety problem in a strut or engine. What I was concerned about was our ultimate customer--the airlines. I knew the airline mechanics would be pissed off if they couldn’t see the disconnect markers if they needed to, or had to get a mirror to see them. Of course, airline executives probably could care less about the markers on the airplane. But I inspected the marker installations per the drawing notes because I was sure the engineers had taken the time to put these notes on the drawing for an important reason, even if the drawing didn‘t explain what that reason was. I also made sure the markers were stuck down to the structure and (sealed) all of the way around so they would stay in place. This was because, in addition to being required per specification, I had always thought that one of the worst things we at Boeing could do from a P.R. standpoint with the airline mechanics, was to have markers hanging by one corner off of a 180 million dollar machine (I actually told this to an APU mechanic, (name) once, when he kidded me about inspecting the markers so well). I figured the airline mechanics would think, "If Boeing can’t install markers, what the hell else did they install incorrectly on this plane?"
I inspected sealant similarly, making sure that fillet sealed parts and fasteners had no voids. I had done alot of sealing as a mechanic, and I knew the importance of a good seal job to prevent corrosion and leaks. Some of the worst sealers in the Strut Shop really seemed to dislike me for this trait. They thought I was picking on them when I would flag numerous voids on their jobs, but very few on other, more skilled/less careless mechanic’s seal jobs. Once, I flagged some seal voids on a 767 strut. The mechanic who had put up the inspection and had done the sealing, (name), questioned the write-ups angrily. He said, "why are you writing seal voids up--it passed the leak test." I don’t remember what I said to him in response.
Inspectors have to deal with different mechanics of different abilities and personalities everyday. I thought I did surprisingly well when the occasional mechanic would complain about something I had written up because he disagreed with it, had stayed up too late the night before and was grouchy, was sick, had had a fight with his wife, didn’t like any inspector looking at their work, was on his 14th hour of work that day, or whatever. I always strived to keep my cool and treat them with respect, regardless of how they treated me. I, having been beset with not the most engaging personality on the planet, would nonetheless frequently joke with the mechanics as I inspected their jobs, showing my particularly dry, unique sense of humor often. I even had a peculiar trait I hadn’t noticed in every inspector--I always treated the mechanics with such respect that I would always try to say "Thank You" at the end of an inspection. It was a thing that I would have wanted when I was a mechanic, but never remembered getting from an inspector. Some mechanics occasionally seemed startled by it when I inspected their work for the first time and would say it, like they had never heard any such thing from an inspector before. I’m sure some mechanics never really knew what I literally meant by it, as I wasn’t about to say the whole thing because it sounded awkward to me, except the way I said it. It means "Thank You for allowing me to be of service." ALL mechanics, even the permanently grouchy or ones that seemed to be annoyed by my thorough inspection ethic, seemed to appreciate it, so I’ve always done it, even to the few mechanics I personally disliked because they had been "non-striking employees" or had verbally attacked me or my coworkers beyond the pale. Of course, even though I disagreed with some mechanics and inspectors crossing the picket line or who had gone over the line in their criticism of me or my coworkers, I always treated everyone with the same level of respect, and always was fair with my write-ups. I never altered my inspection technique based on what opinion I had of the mechanic or his work, as my Door Crew inspectors had done years ago, precisely because I knew it was wrong and I didn’t want to be like them. Plus, I knew everyone could make mistakes, even the most conscientious mechanic, as I thought I used to be one of those, and knew I would make occasional mistakes. That’s why I thought the FAA required us inspect mechanic’s work.
My belief in being professional was such that I even, afterwards, treated the mechanic with respect that said to me, after I had written lateral movement of a wire bundle in a clamp block up, "You can shove that lateral movement up your ass!" I ignored the comment, and didn’t go to personnel to complain about the harassment, as that was the first and only time that mechanic had "went off" on me. Of course, the mechanic thought the write-up was bogus, and him, his lead, or supervisor got (name), Customer Coordinator, to verify the write-up was valid. (Name) found it was discrepant, as I had known, and told that to Manufacturing. Of course I never got an apology, or even a "Gee, you were right about that Gerry, I’ll make sure I wrap the wire enough next time so it won‘t be written up again" comment.
Such is the life of an inspector who tries to do his job. Thankless, mostly. Especially from our own management. You’d think the inspector that did his job consistently, regardless of any unethical pressure from shop, and was one of the most knowledgeable and thorough inspectors would get kudos and awards from his management. Not so. These awards seemed to always have to be cleared through Manufacturing Management or Mfg Leads, and needless to say, I never got any individual awards at PSD. Near the end of a recent QA all-hands meeting last December 18th, my supervisor, (name), passed out a few individual awards, explaining how he had gone to the Manufacturing shop and asked them who they thought deserved an award. They told him and he submitted the names for the awards. At least I knew why I had never gotten an individual award, at that point. Am I bitter about this--no, I could care less if I ever get any sort of award. I’m just using this as an illustration of how much our QA Management and Manufacturing Management are conjoined.
I never really worried about what I considered office politics at PSD. I simply did my job the same way every time, regardless of what the mechanic, his lead, or his supervisor thought about it. I cared little if they liked me personally or not. I never would alter, what I thought were the minimum required, inspection methods just to get approval from a mechanic or his bosses. I believed my job was important to the point where, if I knew that if I had to choose between writing up discrepancies or pleasing some mechanic or his boss that didn’t like the write-up or the number of write-ups, I would always choose the route of integrity, writing up the discrepancies. I knew we were both there to do a job. We each had separate functions per the org charts. He had his duties and goals and I had mine. If his goals conflicted with my goals or duties, I knew I still had to do my job, even if other inspectors decided to go the opposite route. I knew the QA manual well. Nowhere in it did it say our jobs as inspectors were optional--quite the contrary.
This almost unheard of ethic in an inspector made me very unpopular with the Manufacturing Leads and Manufacturing Supervisors. No matter how late Manufacturing was per the schedule, I still would do my inspection job the same way every time, while other inspectors would "alter their processes" to help the shop make up lost schedule, such as performing just the shakedown inspection on a strut, and then buying off all of the O&IRs, stating they inspected them for conformity to the drawing, when they hadn’t. Immediately upon arriving at PSD, I noticed how a lot of the PSD inspectors seemed to take almost all of their pride in this "altering of their processes" to help shop make up schedule. Some seemed more concerned that the product would ship on the scheduled day than the mechanics themselves, and their leads and supervisors. The phrase "ship day", when spoken, was treated, by some inspectors, like the word "charge" to the military. They did whatever it took to get the product out the door, QA Procedures be damned. It was almost life and death to them.
I’ve always known that the Company was schedule driven, as any Boeing employee knows. I deeply knew the importance of us delivering the product on schedule. However, I saw our product quality jobs as inspectors as inviolate, and thought my job still had to be done right regardless of how late Manufacturing was. I was a minority in that. I always saw this overly exuberant sucking up to shop, from QA, to do whatever it took to deliver the product on time, as a conflict of interest that could only result in the unethical overlooking of known defects and other such evils, while others obviously did not. I didn’t buy into it, although I would support shop by doing my job as quickly as possible without jeopardizing the integrity of my inspection. It bothered me that some inspectors would "alter their processes" just to get the product out an hour or so earlier just to make shop happy.
I had seen how Renton QA Management had renamed themselves from "Quality Assurance" to "Production Support", probably because they thought some inspectors still needed a big hint to really know their place in the Boeing Production System. Changing from "Quality Control" to "Quality Assurance" was wise, as Quality didn’t really control anything, and the use of SPC to assure quality was rising, so why not change from "Quality Assurance" to "Production Support", as the Quality department didn’t really assure quality, they only supported production. No matter that multiple other organizations at Renton supported production, such as M.E. and I.E. Their names didn’t need to be changed, as they knew their place. I once thought of, similarly to Renton, suggesting a name change of our Quality Assurance organization at one of our crew meetings. I was going to suggest we change our name to "Shipping Assurance" to match what most of our inspectors seemed to think their functions really were. Even though it would be only in jest to get some of the inspectors to wake up to their real responsibilities, per my opinion, I never did it. No one would probably laugh. Plus, I knew my QA Supervisor of the time might not appreciate it. I also thought of having a baseball cap made with "Shipping Assurance" emblazoned on it and wearing it to work for the same reason. The Millenium countdown hat that I bought and I had modified to state "Strike Til the Next Millenium" just above the countdown clock, and had reset the clock from counting down to the Millenium to counting down to our last union contract expiration date, which was just before the Millenium, was a huge hit with every union loving worker at PSD, and I bravely displayed it on my highboy (desk) even though I knew management might not like it. But I was not brave enough to even have the imagined "Shipping Assurance" hat made, because I thought I might be fired for insubordination or some such thing for doing it.
The Last Inspector