FAA Admits Emails Missing in Air Traffic Control Cheating Scandal

Ronald Reagan National Airport (The Associated Press)

A motion filed by the Federal Aviation Administration in Federal Court admits the agency is unable to recover missing and “corrupted” emails at the center of a cheating scandal exposed by FOX Business Network’s “Trouble in the Skies” last May. The FBN report led to the resignation of Joseph Teixeira, Vice President of the FAA’s Safety and Technical Training Air Traffic Organization. 

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Several members of Congress, including the chairman of the aviation subcommittee Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), demanded an investigation after rejected applicants who tried to become Air Traffic Control Specialists (ATCS) sued the FAA.  They also filed a freedom of information act request for emails sent between members of the FAA and officers of the National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees (NBCFAE) between December 1, 2013 and June 24 2015. The FAA turned over some of the emails but withheld 181 documents. Now it says some of those documents are lost.

In-Depth Investigation....

FOX Business obtained a legal motion the FAA filed in Federal District Court in Arizona dated Monday February 29, to dismiss a request to release emails between FAA employees accused of helping air traffic control applicants cheat or gain an advantage. The FAA now says some of those emails are unrecoverable. “The Lotus Notes Archive for December 2013 was unable to retrieve data and was identified as unreadable and corrupted.” 

“The Lotus Notes Archive for December 2013 was unable to retrieve data and was identified as unreadable and corrupted.”

- FAA Filing, Federal District Court AZ

Michael Pearson, one of the lawyers representing ATCS applicants rejected by the FAA who are now suing the agency, tells FOX Business, "It's obvious to me they are hiding embarrassing information."

In December 2013 the FAA notified thousands of air traffic control candidates that it was abruptly changing its hiring standards in an effort to become more diverse.  The NBCFAE had lobbied FAA officials for several years to become more inclusive in its hiring.  NBCFAE associate member Moranda Reilly was among several NBCFAE members who received emails in December 2013 and a recorded message from NBCFAE officer and air traffic controller Shelton Snow.   Reilly says the emails included buzzwords that, “…would help identify us.  Key words the system would pick up.  It was a kind of a way for our resumes to be picked and chosen.  We were told not to share this information with anybody outside NBCFAE.”

Congress Weighs In On Latest FAA Twist

The FAA recently concluded an internal investigation which cleared the NBCFAE and Snow of doing anything wrong. In a statement sent to members of Congress last month the FAA claimed its Office of Security and Hazardous Materials Safety (ASH) had conducted an investigation into the allegations of cheating and favoritism. The FAA claims it was a thorough investigation which reviewed relevant audio recordings and documents. The statement says, “ASH found no specific information or evidence supporting claims that Human Resources employees improperly provided an advantage to ATCS applicants affiliated with the NBCFAE…” But it appears FAA investigators may have lacked key evidence.  According to the FAA legal motion, its investigators refuse to release 29 emails and attachments, “…either sent or received by Mr. Snow in his capacity as a member of the National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees” because it is considered non agency email.  

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“If it’s on a server somewhere they should be able to be documented or recovered”

- Moranda Reilly, NBCFAE Member

The FAA stores its email with an outside contractor, Iron Mountain (IRM) based in Boston Massachusetts. The FAA also claims it requested Iron Mountain retrieve emails from Mr. Snow’s account for December 2013 but Iron Mountain could not recover them.  The legal motion says, “…they tried several techniques to recover and retrieve the data from the December 2013 disaster recovery tapes, but they were unsuccessful.” Some of the December emails were found on a January disaster recovery tape but an FAA source says it’s impossible to know what was lost or may be missing from the December email database. FOX Business contacted Iron Mountain but at the time of publication has not received comment. Moranda Reilly calls all of it suspicious. “If it’s on a server somewhere they should be able to be documented or recovered” she said. 

Reilly also doubts the conclusion of the FAA internal investigation which cleared FAA employees and NBCFAE members. She says, “It is interesting that the FAA has been seen as not having any fault on something by their own admission they don’t have all the evidence.”

The FAA did not respond to request for comment from FOX Business at the time of publication.  

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