Is The Air Traffic Control Hiring Scandal Evidence Of Broader Affirmative Action Failures?

Authored by Duane Norman via Free Market Shooter blog,

In a recent segment on Fox News, Tucker Carlson took the FAA to task for putting “diversity over safety” in its hiring practices:

Starting in 2014 the FAA added a biographical questionnaire to the application process. Applicants with a lower aptitude in science got preference over applicants who had scored excellent in science. Applicants who had been unemployed for the previous three years got more points than licensed pilots got. In other words, the FAA actively searched for unqualified air traffic controllers. That is insane and they knew it was insane when they did it but they did it anyway.

Today we obtained new information, it is an internal email written by an executive at the firm that devised the FAA’s biographical questionnaire. In that email, the executive admits that the test he devised has nothing to do with finding the best air traffic controllers. If you want good air traffic controllers, find people with experience, that was his advice. The FAA ignored this and used the biographical screen anyway. They didn’t care about finding the best air traffic controllers. Compared to diversity, your safety meant nothing to them.

Most of the segment consisted of an interview with former ATC Michael Pearson, who detailed his lawsuit against the FAA...

...but the segment itself didn’t offer any external confirmation beyond Carlson’s word.  Unsurprisingly, Carlson was correct – the FAA’s own website clearly says so…

The FAA has made an historic commitment to transform the agency into a more diverse and inclusive workplace that reflects, understands, and relates to the diverse customers we serve. To meet this goal and satisfy the requirements of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission MD-715, the Administrator tasked the Office of the Assistant Administrator for Civil Rights to conduct barrier analyses of the Air Traffic Control Specialist (ATCS) Centralized Hiring Process, Aviation Safety Inspectors, and Airway Transportation Systems Specialists.

The first study, completed in 2013, is on the ATCS series. These reports reflect a collaborative effort undertaken by the FAA’s Office of Civil Rights, Office of Human Resources, and the Air Traffic Organization. The primary purpose of these reports is to identify and analyze potential barriers to equal employment opportunities within the ATCS Centralized Hiring Process and to offer solutions to establish the foundation for improving the process.

A second study was conducted in 2015 and addressed potential barriers and solutions in the hiring process for aviation safety inspectors.

…and three years ago, The Wall Street Journal blew the horn on how the FAA itself stated that its affirmative action process, the “biographical questionnaire” (BQ), not only was inferior to the existing AT-SAT exam, the agency disqualified prior experience in its hiring criteria:

“The FAA says it created the BQ to promote diversity among its workforce,” reported Adam Shapiro of Fox Business. “All air traffic control applicants are required to take it. Those who pass are deemed eligible and those who fail are ruled ineligible.”

The FAA would not tell Fox Business what the biographical test is trying to measure and did not return my phone calls. But an FAA report released in October, “Using Biodata to Select Air Traffic Controllers,” concluded that the AT-SAT exam, not the biographical questionnaire, is a much better predictor of performance. “The biodata items assessed did little to improve our ability to select applicants most likely” to complete training successfully, said the study. “If biodata are to be used to select controllers, additional research is required to identify those biodata items that will add to the prediction of controller training performance over and above the effect of AT-SAT score.”

After the FAA changed its screening process in 2014, thousands of applicants who were already in the pipeline—people who had obtained an FAA-accredited degree, taken the AT-SAT exam and had been designated “well-qualified” to become air-traffic controllers—were told by the government that they would have to start the process again. “But this time, when they applied for a job, their college degrees and previous military experience would mean nothing,” reported Fox Business. “They would now compete with thousands of people the agency calls ‘off the street hires’; anyone who wants to, can walk in off the street without any previous training and apply for an air traffic control job.”

Any affirmative action program that involves experience being meaningless to the hiring process will seldom end well...

...but one would think one of the last places that would disqualify college and military experience in the name of “diversity” would be an air traffic control center.

If and when an incident occurs, undoubtedly the blame will shift away from policies that led to unqualified hires, and land squarely on whatever command the incident occured under.  This is precisely what happened in the case of Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, as Free Market Shooter has already covered:

So the facts support a different conclusion; this was clearly an affirmative action hire, which resulted in a poorly-trained and unqualified officer winding up on the force.  You might be stunned, but you should hardly be surprised to learn that Hodges quickly changed her tune about Noor following the incident…

At a press conference to respond to Saturday’s fatal officer-involved shooting in southwest Minneapolis’ Fulton neighborhood, Mayor Betsy Hodges said she was “heartsick and deeply disturbed” by the incident that left a woman dead.

…but that didn’t stop her from blaming the incident on the policies of her police chief and forcing her out.  Notably, the chief might have gotten her own job as a result of Hodges’ “commitment to diversity” on the police force:

The chief’s departure came at the request of Mayor Betsy Hodges, who promptly nominated Assistant Chief Medaria Arradondo, a 28-year veteran of the force, to replace Harteau. The move ended Harteau’s 4½-year run as the first woman and first openly gay person to head the department.

Additionally, when Free Market Shooter asked if the US Navy crashes in 2017 were a result of “hacks”, some questioned whether or not affirmative action played a role in allowing unqualified seamen to operate Navy vessels:

Could it be that simple complacency and/or lack of proper training has resulted in these incidents? Given the professionalism of our military, that seems unlikely, but it wouldn’t be the first (and almost certainly won’t be the last) time it has happened.

It has to be noted that many of the crashed vessels had been on extended deployments, with crews that were undoubtedly overworked – conditions that could make an incident all but inevitable.  The Navy itself blamed “a lack of adherence to sound navigational practices” and “complacency, over-confidence and lack of procedural compliance” for the incidents.  But, given the Obama administration’s conduct with the FAA, affirmative action leading to poor seamanship and command of Navy vessels cannot be ruled out.

Whether it is policing streets, operating Navy vessels, or managing the nation’s air traffic, the standards for employees with top-tier responsibilities needs to be impeccably high – poor hires cannot be permitted to “slip through” the cracks.  While it seems unlikely that this has occurred in the US Navy, police forces have clearly relaxed and “fast-tracked” hiring in an effort to onboard more “minority” candidates, highlighted by the aforementioned case of Mohamed Noor.  If the Obama administration has relaxed hiring standards in the nation’s air traffic control system, something must be done to confirm the wrong individuals aren’t on the job...

...before it’s too late.