Transportation Officials Say Former IG Didn’t Relate Safety Concerns
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Whom did she tell and when did she tell them?
That was the question that confounded the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Wednesday as it heard from former Transportation Department Inspector General Mary Schiavo.
Schiavo has attracted widespread praise and criticism for her comments, including an article in Newsweek saying she wouldn’t fly certain airlines and criticizing safety programs.
``I didn’t know about those concerns until I read it in the magazine,″ Federal Aviation Administrator David R. Hinson said.
``If the inspector general had such serious concerns ... she should tell me, and she did not,″ said Transportation Secretary Federico Pena.
But Schiavo insisted that she did keep them informed through regular reports and weekly meetings with Pena’s staff.
``I have been pounding on the desk for 5 1/2 years,″ she told the committee.
``Mary Schiavo has once again used her selective memory, laced heavily with innuendo, to paint a picture of reality when, in fact, the facts suggest otherwise,″ Steven Akey, the Transportation Department’s director of public affairs, said Wednesday night in the department’s first on-the-record comment about Schiavo’s statements.
Schiavo said she began an investigation into ValuJet in February _ at about the same time the FAA undertook a safety probe of the airline _ and was shocked to learn that word of her investigation leaked to the airline.
At a Feb. 22 meeting, Ann Bormolini, then chief of staff to Pena, said she had been contacted by a lobbyist for ValuJet, who asked why the inspector general’s office was ``snooping around,″ Schiavo said.
``I was floored. ... I was astonished,″ she said of the query. Schiavo later recused herself from that probe into whether inspectors had been urged to go easy on the low-price airline.
``I was quite upset by the meeting because it looked like things had been compromised,″ she said.
Bormolini, in a statement on her recollection of her conversation with Schiavo, said she had received a call from a friend who was a lobbyist for ValuJet, asking if she had any information regarding an investigation by Schiavo’s office of ValuJet and whether it was appropriate to ask.
Bormolini said she told Schiavo about the call and that she wanted to be ``extremely cautious in responding, if at all.″
Bormolini said Schiavo told her she ``may″ investigate ValuJet but at that time was looking at FAA oversight of the airline.
``I asked her if it was appropriate to pass this information on _ she said it was not and I did not,″ Bormolini said.
Bormolini said Schiavo sent her a memo several days later that did not raise any additional concerns regarding ValuJet, but confirmed that the FAA ``appeared to be taking appropriate steps to review ValuJet.″ She said she had no further contact with Schiavo regarding ValuJet.
ValuJet President Lewis Jordan told the committee he asked a Washington law firm to see whether his airline was ``in trouble″ because of a letter from an Office of Management and Budget official complaining about a delay affecting his wife. Jordan said the official wrote to Pena suggesting that ValuJet be shut down, Jordan said, so he asked the lawyer to look into the problem.
Bill Schulz, a spokesman for Pena, later identified the official as OMB Associate Director Bob Litan and said Litan wrote to Deputy FAA Administrator Linda Daschle, not to Pena.
``I have never, nor would I ever, attempt to apply pressure on the Office of the Inspector General,″ Jordan said.
Hinson told the committee there was no attempt to influence his agency.
The FAA safety investigation intensified following ValuJet’s May 11 crash killing 110 in Florida, and the airline was grounded June 17 until it meets a series of conditions imposed by the FAA.
ValuJet’s Jordan said he hopes to have his airline flying by the first week in August.
Asked why she had resigned from office suddenly, Schiavo said she had concluded ``it was not time not to hang up my spurs but the change horses.″