Yesterday the FAA issued a Fact Sheet for its “Consistency and Standardization Initiative” (“CSI”) (formerly known as its “customer service initiative”). The CSI is intended to provide a process for the FAA’s stakeholders/customers (certificate holders etc.) to request review of decisions at progressively higher levels within the FAA “with no fear of retribution” and to “ensure consistent interpretation and implementation of agency regulation and policies.”
Under the CSI, when someone (the “stakeholder”) disagrees with a decision from an FAA inspector or engineer, the FAA employee’s manager reviews that decision and may communicate directly with the stakeholder in an attempt to resolve the issue. If that doesn’t work, the stakeholder presents the issue to the field office manager with specific documentation supporting the stakeholder’s position. If the issue isn’t resolved at the field office level, the stakeholder can appeal to the appropriate FAA regional office. At that point, the regional manager and other FAA employees may meet directly with the stakeholder in an attempt to negotiate a decision resolving the issue. If the issue isn’t resolved, the stakeholder’s appeal may then be addressed to the “service” level (i.e. Flight Standards or Aircraft Certification at FAA Headquarters in Washington).
The service director of the applicable FAA office reviews the stakeholder’s documentation, the field office’s resolution, and any additional information added during the division or directorate review. According to the fact sheet, the goal at that point “is to determine if there is any new or mitigating information that might help identify alternate paths for resolution.” The FAA Chief Counsel’s office may be consulted at that point as well. The service director will issue a decision that is considered a “final technical determination,” which may still be appealed to the Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety for a review.
If the Associate Administrator disagrees with the service director’s decision, he or she may direct one of the lower levels to resolve the issue. However, if the Associate Administrator concurs with the service director’s decision, that’s it. The decision is final and the stakeholder has exhausted the appeal process under the CSI.
It will be important for stakeholders/certificate holders to take advantage of the CSI. Why, you might ask with a healthy degree of skepticism? First, because its possible (although that same skepticism may prevent you from agreeing) that the CSI may, in fact, help to resolve a dispute. Second, before a court will step in and resolve a dispute you may have with the FAA, it will require that you have exhausted your administrative remedies. That means you will need to have pursued resolution all the way through the CSI process before you ask the court for help.
Whether the CSI will, in fact, result in more consistency between FAA offices is anybody’s guess. It certainly would be nice to have some uniformity among the FSDOs etc. I guess time will tell.