Boeing is under the microscope in Washington after high-profile accidents

Boeing is under the microscope in Washington after high-profile accidents

Congress is eyeing more government oversight of Boeing after a series of high-profile incidents triggered multiple investigations into the company’s practices and temporarily blocked the plane maker from ramping up production.

Boeing has come under intense scrutiny after a commission blew up one of the company’s 737 MAX 9 planes mid-flight on Jan. 5. The investigation concluded that no bolts were installed to secure the plug, which exploded shortly after the Alaska Airlines flight took off. .

The Justice Department launched a criminal investigation into Boeing last week after the company admitted it was unable to find records sought by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for work done on the panel at its plant.

The FAA is also investigating Boeing, and FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker has cited “safety culture issues.”

“Their priorities were production, not safety and quality. What we’re really focused on now is shifting that focus from production to safety and quality,” Whitaker told NBC’s “Nightly News” in an interview that aired Tuesday.

Lawmakers have made clear they want to see those changes — and soon, with potential legislation on the way to make sure that happens.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which oversees Boeing and the FAA, said there will “absolutely” be more action in Congress on the issue.

Senators must first come up with a long-term reauthorization of the FAA, due by May 10, that would provide for more aviation safety inspectors and more guidance for the FAA on oversight, Cantwell told The Hill.

After that, she added, the committee will ask FAA officials and manufacturers “to come and talk to us about what additional change is needed.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a ranking member of the committee, said the FAA “undoubtedly” needs to exercise more oversight of Boeing given recent safety problems.

“This is an ongoing issue. Obviously what has happened with Boeing in recent months is deeply concerning. The NTSB is involved in the investigation into the Alaska Airlines incident. This investigation needs to move forward to its conclusion,” he told The Hill.

“The challenges we have seen recently have raised real and material concerns and concerns that need to be addressed.”

Asked whether the FAA needed to strengthen oversight of Boeing, Cruz replied, “Absolutely,” but did not say whether he or his colleagues would propose any legislation or resolution to ensure that.

Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vermont), also a member of the committee, said he and his fellow committee members believe more FAA oversight of the plane maker is needed, and Congress should push the agency to do so, noting, “Boeing is in a state of Of chaos.”

A Boeing spokesperson told The Hill on Wednesday that the company is “taking significant actions to enhance safety and quality at Boeing.” We focus on demonstrating change and building confidence one aircraft at a time. This increased scrutiny — whether from ourselves, the FAA, or others — will make us better.”

After an FAA review found numerous “noncompliance issues in Boeing’s manufacturing process control, parts handling and storage, and product control” earlier this month, the regulator gave Boeing 90 days to come up with a plan to fix the problems.

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration has blocked Boeing from ramping up production until it proves it has improved its safety standards, according to Whitaker.

A separate report issued by federal aviation experts last month identified “gaps” in the company’s safety culture.

The review, which began before the Alaska Airlines explosion, included several safety recommendations, including calls to enhance employee understanding of safety culture and protocols, establish an independent investigative process, ensure the anonymity of Boeing’s “Speak Up” program and create a process for capturing informal reports. Safety-related for supervisors and managers.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said the audit and review provided a “clear picture of what needs to be done.” Calhoun also promised to come up with a plan that would provide the “profound change” the FAA demanded.

Boeing said it has already implemented steps to enhance safety, including weekly compliance checks on all work cells on the 737 and deploying a safety management system to review and reduce “shift work,” when a manufacturer notices a part is unavailable during final assembly but continues production.

But Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose department includes the FAA, said Tuesday: “There are real concerns about quality control at Boeing.”

“Every time I get on a plane, I know I’m participating in the safest transportation in America. And I know the people who work hard to keep it that way. That’s part of the reason we’re putting pressure on Boeing,” Buttigieg said at an Axios event in Washington. “Severely.”

Boeing said the company “has taken important steps to foster a safety culture that empowers and encourages all employees to share their voices. But there is more work to be done.”

A company spokesperson said: “We will carefully review the committee’s assessment and learn from its findings, as we continue our comprehensive efforts to improve our safety and quality programs.”

A Boeing spokesperson told The Hill that the company took responsibility for the incident and prioritized transparency with lawmakers and regulators, and noted that Boeing’s internal lobbying team has been in contact with the offices of every member of Congress since the January 5 incident.

Boeing’s sprawling network of lobbyists is playing a key role as the company reaches out to lawmakers and policymakers amid ongoing investigations. Boeing is one of the world’s largest aerospace and defense companies, and runs one of the largest lobbying operations in Washington.

Boeing spent more than $14.4 million on federal lobbying in 2023, making it the 15th biggest spender among the myriad organizations that deal with policymakers and the policy-making process, according to federal lobbying disclosures analyzed by the nonprofit OpenSecrets. For research on money in politics.

Of the 109 lobbyists registered to work on behalf of Boeing in 2023, 78 — nearly three-quarters — had previously worked in the federal government, including five former members of Congress, according to OpenSecrets.

Last year, 17 companies registered to lobby for Boeing on issues including FAA reauthorization, defense appropriations, funding for NASA’s aviation programs, health care and employee benefits issues.

Boeing revamped its lobbying operations in the years following the fatal 737 MAX 8 crashes in 2018 and 2019.

The aerospace giant named Ziad Oujagli as executive vice president of government operations in October 2021, and three firms that had long been lobbying for Boeing stopped lobbying for it at the end of that year.

“We were very proud of the work we did for Boeing for nearly a decade. We were surprised when we were let go, and I’m sure there are others who feel the same way. We were very proud of it,” Sam Geduldig, a partner at CGCN, told The Hill.

A former Boeing consultant told The Hill that there was “a risk in just firing a group of well-connected people who worked on very sensitive issues.”

“They’ve created a bunch of enemies, and it’s probably not helpful now to have all these angry advisors walking around,” they said.

Boeing has already made a major change to its lobbying operation this year: Cornerstone Government Affairs stopped lobbying for Boeing at the end of February after working together in Washington for more than 14 years.

The company reported that it has received more than $3.2 million in lobbying fees from Boeing since it first signed on to lobby for the aerospace giant in 2010, including $320,000 last year. A Boeing spokesman said the company regularly reviews contracts with consultants and the two “parted amicably.”

The Hill has reached out to Cornerstone for comment.

“Our focus is on the issue at hand — on safety and quality — and on being as transparent as possible with all of our stakeholders. Our government relations team will continue to communicate transparently and effectively with government officials and policymakers as we move forward,” a Boeing spokesperson said.

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