Here is something new from the Project On Government Oversight, a watchdog organization that has taken an interest in my case and related FAA and industry corruption. This is an op-ed that is in the Seattle Post intelligencer and on their website today:
Case implicates free speech
The King County Prosecutor's Office is pursuing a criminal case against a former Boeing employee with dangerous implications for whistle-blowers, the flying public and free speech rights.
After the first trial resulted in a hung jury a few weeks ago, King County prosecutors, will soon announce a second trial date for former Boeing quality assurance inspector Gerald Eastman. The prosecutors likely will charge Eastman with "computer trespass"-- a euphemism for Eastman's unauthorized whistle-blowing to the media, which is not an illegal act. Jurors in the first trial were conflicted about the judge's instructions not to consider the issue of whistle-blowing.
Most of Eastman's concerns related to the safety implications of what he considered poor quality assurance at Boeing. While Eastman clearly violated Boeing policy, the criminal charges against him raise serious issues, especially in regards to the First Amendment right of free speech.
In other words, it is one thing to fire a whistle-blower for breaking company policies, quite another to try to jail one for the act of whistle-blowing, which is protected by law.
"Bringing criminal charges in this type of case is a very extreme reaction. However, it is another example of the disturbing trend of punishing whistle-blowers with criminal prosecution," said Dave Colapinto, a partner with the whistle-blower law firm Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto, which runs the National Whistleblower Center.
Eastman is not alone in his concerns about quality control and accountability. In 2000, a Federal Aviation Administration special technical audit on Boeing's production and quality problems, found "in some cases, manufacturing planning was not adequate, requirements were not followed, inspections were not specific or personnel were not knowledgeable about requirements."
Eastman's whistle-blowing came from his belief that Boeing had not adequately resolved the issues found in this FAA audit. He perceived that the practice of "roller-stamping" was widespread. Roller-stamping is approving work as complete without performing a thorough check.
In addition, an internal January 2004 Boeing document titled 'Status Report: Investigation of "Dual Failures"' underscored Eastman's concern. It states, "There appears to be a systemic issue within BCA (Boeing Commercial Aircraft) involving parallel process breakdowns of mechanics and inspectors involved in assembling and inspecting aircraft, assemblies and parts."
The FAA also examined 55 issues at Boeing between 2002 and 2003 and found that "24 percent of these issues have involved instances where the mechanic and inspector created and accepted nonconforming conditions."
And, in February 2008, the Department of Transportation IG issued a report of all the major aerospace manufacturers, including Boeing, faulting them for their quality assurance systems for their suppliers.
The employment consequences for Eastman's breaking company policy have been severe. A second round of a dubious criminal prosecution threatens to ruin this man's life and further hurt his family. But the issue is greater than that.
Does a whistle-blower have a First Amendment right to inform the public in a manner that should be considered protected speech without being jailed? If Boeing and King County prosecutors get their way, the future for whistle-blowers and the public is grim.
Nick Schwellenbach is an investigator at the Project On Government Oversight, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that works with whistle-blowers.
Pretty humbling, indeed, that they did this, knowing that retaliation against whistleblowers is so widespread today and we are a numerous bunch to try to defend.
Here are my responses to the op-ed and other commenters as taken from the P-I's website:
Posted by WBR Supporer at 5/7/08 7:12 p.m.
Bravo Mr. Schwellenbach. This is why it is important. Too bad more Boeing employees don't take their ethical responsibilities as seriously.
Posted by big rr at 5/7/08 7:30 p.m.
I wonder why the P.I. feels this way? Could it be that they do not care how many laws are broken, just as long as they get a story?
Posted by Skimission at 5/7/08 8:22 p.m.
... and people still wonder why Boeing has a tough time getting contracts. They simply can't or won't comply with good quality assurance basics. HOPEFULLY they will close that place before lives are lost.
Posted by Hug-a-Liberal at 5/8/08 12:14 a.m.
If prosecutors "go after" whistle-blowers for any reason, they are doing the Devil's work. Just watch the movie "The Insider" to see how devilish their work can be.
Posted by The Last Inspector at 5/8/08 1:52 a.m.
I am humbled by this support from the well respected Washington, D.C. anti-government/industry corruption organization Project On Government Oversight.
Their research is well done. I remember that "dual failures" CYA attempt by Boeing and the FAA just after they knew I was preparing to go public. It was an effort to make it seem they were addressing the Boeing Management sanctioned rollerstamping fraud that I reported to both the FAA and Boeing. When I went public, they would point to this "dual failures" observation by the FAA and Boeing's meetings on it and say they were addressing it, even though they really weren't.
Time went on and they thought I was not going to go public with my story of Boeing/FAA corruption, so they dropped this "dual failures" charade of a "working together" team addressing the issue they knew Boeing and the FAA could not believably deny--rollerstamping--and settled back into their habitual fraudulent relationship that actually ensured rollerstamping could continue at Boeing with corrupt FAA Management looking the other way instead of addressing it and ending it as was their true mandate.
The STA, or Special Technical Audit of 2000 also documented the rampant rollerstamping by inspectors at Boeing, however nothing was done as C/A per that audit to address it, especially after the FAA Headquarters Manager in charge of the audit jumped ship for a healthy salary boost as an employee at Boeing. This was pre-Druyun, and Boeing executives, including BCA's CEO of the time, flew to meet this FAA Associate Administrator for Regulation & Certification, Tom McSweeny, shortly after the audit and came to an agreement with him. (McSweeny was thereafter compensated by Boeing with a Vice President position in 2001.)
Subsequently, "reforms" per the the STA actually were used as a guise to gut BCA Quality Assurance that was already documented as ineffective per the STA simply for cost and flow benefits. The BCA Vice President for Quality position was eliminated. QA independence was compromised by having QA report to operations managers even more adverse to quality assurance at BCA than QA Managers were themselves as noted in my report.
Corrupt FAA management just did what they do best through all of this--look the other way, hoping to cash in on positions in the same company they "regulated" after they've secured retirement checks from the FAA, like the noted FAA Associate Administrator for Regulation & Certification, McSweeny, did.
Knowing this, it is no wonder that corrupt FAA and Boeing Management chose to implement charades and cover-ups rather than reforms when I appealed to them for reform for the sake of the safety of the public. Few saw as I did what kind of defects were intentionally delivered to airline customers by both Boeing's and the FAA's assurance that the rollerstamping they documented and witnessed continued, rather than ended. I saw those defects and ensured they were eliminated when I inspected the major airplane components that it was my true job to inspect. However, rollerstamping inspectors in large part never saw the defects they let deliver to customers as they didn't inspect the whole job, if any of it.
If you think rollerstamping at Boeing doesn't exist, ask Boeing and the FAA if it does or not. As they have documented it on at least the two noted occasions and did nothing but make it more widespread and therefore more dangerous to the public, they can't honestly say it isn't still in place today.
If you are concerned about such fraud that places everyone who flies these planes at extra risk, write your Congressperson and the Oberstar committee that handled the Southwest Airlines/FAA fraud investigation and demand action that will ensure the airplane you fly on was actually adequately inspected when it was built, and the paperwork that purports to prove that it was is no longer a lie.
Posted by vit at 5/8/08 3:52 a.m.
Any one that prosecutes a person who tells of public safety concerns should be voted out of office. This effects all of us, if we fly or not. Who wants an airplane to fall on a major city because of some flaw that was not caught at the factory? Who wants to pay the price to fly in a plane that might not make it safely to the other end of the run? Maybe the public official making the decision to charge this person should be fired.
Posted by amybettermen at 5/8/08 7:30 a.m.
This is fishy. The inspection criteria is set by quality policy. Rollerstamping can be done all the day long as long as it is a sufficient level of vigilance to assure quality finished goods. Boeing and the FAA set the inspection standard.
In the private sector - as opposed to government - there is a HUGE pool of trial attorneys just waiting to chase the ambulances from a Boeing crash to the courthouse to unpeel the onion of faulty quality control policy. Practicing inadequate quality control standards is a severely liable endeavor. The pennies saved in a fly-by inspection are dramatically outweighed by the millions of dollars paid out in class action settlements and wrongful death awards. Thank goodness.
And every lawsuit raises the price of the finished product: airplanes in this case. Drugs in another. Just ask the big pharma industry. Imagine a whole sector of private services delivery turned over to the oversight of the government - where class actions don't exist, and corrective action is virtually non-existent?: HillaryCare.
The people that should be shooting at nationalized healthcare aside from the delayed-unto-death patients is trial attorneys. No more suits against Merck, Anthem, etc. etc.
When is the last time you heard of the US government being sued for wrongful death because Hillary & Co wouldn't pay your hospital-, surgeon-, or drug bill? If you think Boeing isn't responsive to faulty quality control, what of the "government" healthcare bureaucrats? No skin off their pensions. (If this reminding you for some strange reason of your kid's school teacher, don't flinch. Your kid dropping out or failing in public school is no skin of their teachers' pensions. Thank a public sector union for that disconnect.) At least at Boeing there IS a consequence.
Quality is established at the point of manufacture. If the quality control inspection standard is 100% inspection of completed operations/completed assemblies, Boeing can define the quality control point where ever they wish - so long as the 100% happens at some station. A QC Inspector's work instructions will define sub-assembly inspection points following their installation in larger systems.
Attorneys will be the first to acknowledge it is invaluable to work BOTH sides of the fence regarding setting and enforcing standards - be they legal or quality. THEY jump the fence all the time working first for the employer groups to defend worker's comp policy then working for the law firms that go after abusive employers, etc...so it is not really surprising to see an expert in "inspection" being hired away to a manufacturer.
Roller stamping in practice is okay, or not. If it is a level of vigilance sufficient to produce the target quality level, then it is fine. The quality policy determines; and just spewing to the media about the practice is not necessarily any news.
One thing this singing quality inspector fails to mention is that 100% inspection ITSELF produces inspection failures because of the human element. Machine 100% inspection does very well. Humans even when checking 100% of characteristics fail a small percentage of the time AT THEIR BEST. When inspectors are rushed or fatigued the errors rise dramatically, and they will stamp 100% inspected goods okay, when they in fact aren't.
A final debate not blanched by this is the reality that air travel customers are NOT willing to pay for 100% safe air travel. They couldn't begin to afford it. Neither can Boeing or the FAA and the United States, any more than we can assure 100% safe auto travel, etc.
Aircraft customers choose manufacturers based on past performance.
Boeing doesn't have much to worry about - even if they do rollerstamp inappropriately. Choose another airframe manufacturer and you can line up the ambulance chasers based on empirical evidence. PS - I don't own any Boeing stock. I do know a lot about quality control and systemic failure - which doesn't seem to exist here.
How a title editor confuses this with a free speech issue is laughable.
Posted by joexmd at 5/8/08 7:49 a.m.
Blame the whistleblower, government, and those damn trial lawyers. Why can't everyone listen to Bush and just let companies do whatever they want and let the consumers chose? Look how well that's been working the last 7 years. Whistleblowers must hate america.
Posted by NorthCountryBen at 5/8/08 9:08 a.m.
We need to thank joexmd for our daily dose of "It's all Bush's fault. Thank him for spending the 10 seconds gathering no evidence and then bravely telling Seattle "It's all Bush's fault. Outside of the usual ignorance, joexmd manages to reach new heights of telling us all about Bush's failings in something that has nothing to do with him. Typical Seattle liberal. Failing the WASL is a "badge of honor." Then sticking their ignorance out in public as a career choice. I think joexmd really deserves designation as "Seattle Tool of the Day."
Posted by USAGYM08 at 5/8/08 9:29 a.m.
Did you notice this, big rr:
"The prosecutors likely will charge Eastman with "computer trespass"-- a euphemism for Eastman's unauthorized whistle-blowing to the media, which is not an illegal act. Jurors in the first trial were conflicted about the judge's instructions not to consider the issue of whistle-blowing."
In other words, without the whistleblower protection in place, it may look like a violation of law. But it's not.
Posted by The Last Inspector at 5/8/08 1:32 p.m.
"amybettermen" would do well to go into Boeing QA Management. "Justifying" rollerstamping is what they do best. Actually, she is all wrong on the issue. Rollerstamping is never OK, and in fact it is not only illegal, it is fraud. It is a crime vastly more serious than the one Boeing had their prosecutor falsely charge me with. True, there are inspection levels that are required to be met at Boeing, but rollerstamping is a practice that ignores those standards totally in order to just get the paperwork stamped off so defects won't be found and documented, which would slow production flow down--a prime consideration in "lean manufacturing at Boeing." So, every rollerstamping episode makes a mockery of Boeing's legally required quality system. There is no second inspection of the same required detail that will catch defects intentionally missed the first time. There were shakedown inspections at one time which looked at areas briefly after final inspections were mostly complete, but those are rollerstamped also. In fact, in the area I worked--Propulsion Systems Division (which has now been moved into the factory areas and effectively doesn't exist anymore)--all the final inspections and most critical process inspections were rollerstamped. The no drawing, no production plan shakedown inspection was illegally substituted for the required 100% inspection of each job required. Some inspectors did those shakedown inspections of entire EBUs (Jet Engine Build-Ups) in seven minutes or much less. A real shakedown of such large and complex assemblies would take about an hour. But that would created a problem--a real and not rollerstamped shakedown inspection would find and document defects the seven minute or less pretend shakedown inspection of an entire jet engine or engine pylon intentionally missed. So, an inspector actually doing the shakedown inspection would have a bunch of defects they had found that required rework before the engine could be loaded in the shipping fixture and shipped. This took time, and drew the ire of Manufacturing Leads and QA Management, especially if a defect was found that was so severe as to require an Engineering disposition before it could be fixed, which took even more time and added what corrupt QA Management considered as simply unnecessary costs and production time to the build of that engine/pylon. So you can see what problems an ethical inspector who only insisted on doing just the shakedown inspection correctly would come up against. Actually doing the more detailed 100% final inspections correctly would be deadly to an inspector's career. QA management would find a way to fire such an inspector, even if they had to make up something.
So. wishful thinking aside, "amybettermen," rollerstamping does indeed place passenger lives at much greater risk than the regulatory limits and related quality system requirements allow. Boeing calls this fraud "accepting more business risk" even if it is not Boeing that is actually accepting the risk because of this fraud--it is airline passengers who obviously accept that greater risk so Boeing can reap more bottom line dollars by defrauding customers who thought they bought a fully inspected, conforming, and airworthy airplane. True, they paid for those inspections, but they were never done as required. The money Boeing saved by that rollerstamping goes directly to their bottom line, although I strongly believe some customers do know Boeing is doing this and they want their cut in a reduced airplane price, which is even more scary, I believe, than an unknowing customer.
Rollerstamping is a way of life at Boeing and the FAA knows it and intentionally looks the other way because it is good for their personal finances to do so, and they know what a true nightmare it would be for Boeing if they started to actually comply with their quality system. It would make the production bottlenecks of 1997 look tame by comparison. Much of the production flow gains from lean manufacturing that were enabled by rollerstamping would have to be reversed. Those dollars would be subtracted from the bottom line, which wouldn't look good for managers come merit bonus and stock option time. So you can see now why Boeing is so determined to continue this fraud, and destroy anyone who calls attention to it to try to get that fraud ended for the sake of the safety of the passengers and crew.
True, the pieces of most crashes are too small to know exactly what caused them, and most rollerstamping issues result in delays at the gate while issues are fixed, extra maintenance costs for airlines, air turnbacks and in-flight shutdowns of engines and airplanes exploding on the tarmac and crash landings rather than crashes per se. Most biased people who are intimately involved in this fraud or own Boeing stock say there isn't a problem because airplanes aren't falling out of the sky like rain. In reality, the regulations and your loved ones require much safer airliners than that. You can get more details of this fraud at my website, The Last Inspector.
The Last Inspector