Lessons learned from collaboration at FAA

Monday - 9/27/2010, 10:40am EDT

Russell Mills,author, IBM Business of Government report

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

Recent instances of government and industry collaboration haven't had the best results. Too much collaboration between the former Minerals Management Service, the SEC and the industries they were charged with regulating have led disasters.

But a recent IBM report looks at a successful collaboration between the Federal Aviation Administration and the airline industry that might serve as a model for improving industry compliance.

Russell Mills, the author of the IBM Business of Government report, explained to Federal News Radio, the FAA has a series of programs, allowing operators like pilots or maintenance personnel to voluntarily submit disclosures when there's some sort of violation they discover on their own. "What this does," said Mills, "is it incentivizes companies to share data with the agency, and of course in this era of reduced government budges, that's paramount."

As an example, Mills said in the FAA's ASAP (Aviation Safety Action Program) a pilot submits a report of a safety-related event to a review committee made up of an FAA inspector from the local office, an airline representative, and the pilot's union. They collaboratively decide on a corrective action, then implement the action at the airline level. "If enough of these reports are generated across airlines," said Mills, "the FAA is working on a system that will look across airlines and then implement that change, if it warrants it, across all airlines."

The point, said Mills, is that while the FAA "could spend as much money as they wanted to inspecting every pilot, be in the cockpit of every plane, obviously that's unfeasible. What better way to have the data come to the agency than through the operators themselves disclosing, without fear of retribution. And confidentiality is also ensured in the program."

Key Findings

Mills said there are two key findings in his report.

"The first is that these programs do not replace traditional inspection activities: they're meant to compliment them. If you reduce or your eliminate the threat of a fine, there really is no incentive then for them to voluntarily disclose. So you still need to have the stick, so to speak, while providing the carrot."

The second key, said Mills, is what the FAA has that MMS and the SEC don't have: "a dedicated office or branch that monitors all their voluntary programs. They issue policy guidance, they answer questions for people who have questions, and that is something that I think is key for federal managers. If you're going to set these up, it's best to have a dedicated team because it requires a different type of thinking than is normally found in regulatory agencies."

For more on that, why Mills chose to base the report on the FAA and what research he did, listen to the entire interview by clicking on the audio player at the top of the page.

To read the report "The Promise of Collaborative Voluntary Partnerships: Lessons from the Federal Aviation Administration" from the IBM Center for the Business of Government, click here.