One of the whistleblowers, Douglas Peters, described the FAA’s wink-and-nod culture with the story of how Southwest agreed to pay the full $886,000 penalty for a safety violation as long as the agency didn’t issue a press release about it. As it turns out, Peters was told by his boss, Douglas Gawadzinski, that Southwest would pay only $132,000, and as for the press release:

Weeks later, Mr. Gawadzinski suggested to Mr. Peters, with a wink, that he had used a ruse to have a press release on the reduced penalty put out briefly, but then had rescinded it due to a “typographical error,” according to Mr. Peters’s statement. Mr. Peters said Mr. Gawadzinski told him the agency had met its legal requirement, and another release “wasn’t going to be put out.”

Those FAA supervisors—they’re craaaazy!

Again, it takes nothing away from the story to note that it was based on lengthy statements prepared by the whistleblowers in advance of the committee’s hearings.

USA Today, which does much good work covering regulators it doesn’t get credit for (hey, why is everybody looking at me?), also had a good advance piece on the whistleblowers’ statements.

The New York Times yesterday confirms lawmakers’ key role, added the interesting detail that Oberstar’s investigation was led by a former FAA official, H. Clayton Foushee Jr.

Should the business press do more original reporting on regulators? Sure, I certainly think so.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t recognize the incredible value to the business press and its readers when Congress gets back in the oversight business.

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.