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FAA officials misled Congress about inspectors’ training, investigators say

RENTON, WA - JANUARY 29: A Boeing 737 MAX 8 airliner lifts off for its first flight on January 29, 2016 in Renton, State. The 737 MAX is the newest of Boeing's most popular airliner featuring more futel efficient engines and redesigned wings. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

The Federal Aviation Administration provided misleading statements to Congress about the training its inspectors received, including those that likely oversaw certification of the 737 Max, according to the findings of an Office of Special Counsel investigation released on Monday.

The investigators found that several FAA aviation safety inspectors (ASIs) were not properly trained to “certify pilots or to assess pilot training on procedures and maneuvers” after a whistleblower raised concerns. This group of ASIs likely included people that certified the 737 Max.

The finding by the special counsel, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, is a blow to the FAA, which is trying to convince other aviation regulators worldwide it is qualified to re-certify the 737 Max. Boeing’s 737 Max jet was grounded worldwide after two of the planes crashed in separate incidents, killing 346 people.

The findings of the investigation were first reported by The Washington Post.

The FAA told CNN they are reviewing the Special Counsel’s letter.

Read the letter here:

“We remain confident in our representations to Congress and in the work of our aviation safety professionals. Aviation safety is always our foremost priority, and we look forward to responding to the concerns that have been raised,” an FAA spokesman said in a statement to CNN.

The Office of Special Counsel obtained information from an internal FAA investigation that showed the agency’s official responses to Congress and the public regarding the qualifications of its safety inspectors were “not in line” with the internal investigation’s findings, according to a letter the Special Counsel sent to Trump.

The internal FAA investigation found that 16 out of 22 aviation safety inspectors, or 73%, including those at the Seattle office had “not completed formal training,” according to the letter. Those in the Seattle office likely conducted certification of the 737 Max planes, as Boeing is headquartered there. The information “indicates” that safety inspectors “assigned to the 737 Max had not met qualification standards,” the report states.

While FAA’s own internal investigation found that safety inspectors likely involved in the 737 Max certification were underqualified, the agency’s statements to Congress asserted that safety inspectors who dealt with the 737 Max had their “own specific training requirements.”

In a May 2 letter to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Roger Wicker, then-acting FAA administrator Daniel Elwell references FAA’s internal investigation, but states “it is not accurate, however, to suggest that this whistleblower disclosure and investigation implicated the qualifications of the Boeing 737 MAX Flight Standardization Board.”

In an April 4 letter to the same committee, Elwell wrote that “all of the flight inspectors who participated in the Boeing 737 Max” certifications were “fully qualified.” But the Special Counsel’s report found Elwell’s statement “inaccurate,” because both the FAA internal investigation and “the evidence obtained by OSC shows the 737 Max FSB was staffed by undertrained” safety inspectors.

“The questionable assertion that they had their own specific training requirements diverts attention away from the likely truth of the matter: that they were neither qualified under agency policy to certify pilots flying the 737 Max nor to assess pilot training on procedures and maneuvers,” the report states.

The OSC’s investigation found that FAA employees, especially those within the Office of Audit and Evaluation that conducted the initial internal investigation before it was referred to the special counsel, were concerned about the “veracity of the agency’s public statements, particularly after the FAA’s final response was transmitted to the Committee” in Congress.

“The FAA’s failure to ensure inspector competency for these aircraft subjected the flying public to substantial and specific danger,” the report states.

The special counsel “determined that the agency’s findings, which rely on conflicting documents, do not appear reasonable,” according to the letter sent to Trump.

“In coming forward with these allegations, the whistleblower made a commendable effort to ensure public safety,” the special counsel wrote, urging Congress to continue its oversight efforts.

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