The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was created in 1958 and is the national aviation authority in the United States. Mary Schiavo, an inspector general at that U.S. Department of Transportation, criticized the FAA following the crash of ValuJet Flight 592 in the Florida Everglades on May 11, 1996. Schiavo pointed out that ValuJet’s horrible safety record had been known, but the FAA did nothing about ValuJet until after the crash. As reported in the Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Co). on June 26, 1996:
“‘Our safety agency is called the tombstone agency’ said Transportation Department Inspector General Mary Schiavo, referring to the FAA. ‘Why? Because they wait for a major loss of life before making a safety change.’”
The term “tombstone agency”—an agency that finally takes action only after someone dies—has been associated with the FAA, but has also been applied to other government agencies.
Although Mary Schiavo popularized “tombstone agency” in 1996, it doesn’t appear that she coined the term. James B. King, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said in 1977, “But one of the things that jumped out at me was whether this (NTSB—ed.) really has to be a tombstone agency. Do you really have to wait until an accident?"”
Wikipedia: Federal Aviation Administration
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the national aviation authority of the United States of America. An agency of the United States Department of Transportation, it has authority to regulate and oversee all aspects of civil aviation in the U.S. The Federal Aviation Act of 1958 created the organization under the name “Federal Aviation Agency”, and adopted its current name in 1966 when it became a part of the United States Department of Transportation.
Wikipedia: Mary Schiavo
Mary Fackler Schiavo, J.D., is the outspoken former Inspector General of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), where for six years she withstood pressure from within DOT and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as she sought to expose and correct problems at the agencies. In 1997, after her stormy tenure at the DOT, Schiavo wrote Flying Blind, Flying Safe, which summed up her numerous concerns about the FAA’s systemic flaws.
30 October 1977, The Sunday Republican (Springfield, MA), “King misses the home contacts,” pg. 21, col. 2:
(An interview with James B. King of the National Transportation Safety Board—ed.)
“My interest in the board was first attracted two years ago when we had an accident on the MBTA. This group came in and I saw them in action. I’ve seen them make recommendations after plane accidents. But one of the things that jumped out at me was whether this really has to be a tombstone agency.
“Do you really have to wait until an accident?”
26 June 1996, Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), “FAA played over Valujet: Inspector general says ‘tombstone agency’ let problems accumulate” by John Brinkley:
The Federal Aviation Administration was drawn and quartered Tuesday in a congressional hearing about the causes of last month’s ValuJet Airlines crash in Florida.
“Our safety agency is called the tombstone agency,” said Transportation Department Inspector General Mary Schiavo, referring to the FAA. “Why? Because they wait for a major loss of life before making a safety change.”
Even after tragic crash, aviation safety rules slow to change
May 11, 1997
Web posted at: 12:30 p.m. EDT (1630 GMT)
Former Transportation Department Inspector General Mary Schiavo explained the delay in simple terms to Congress members holding hearings on the ValuJet crash.
“Our safety agency is called the tombstone agency,” she said, “... because they wait for major loss of life before they make a safety change.”
The Growing Dangers of China Trade
By Jyoti Thottam
Thursday, June 28, 2007
That’s an efficient use of resources, but it makes the FDA a “tombstone” agency: nothing happens unless someone dies.
RAW DATA: Joseph Stack Suicide Manifesto
Published February 18, 2010
Federal authorities are investigating the following Web posting linked to Joseph Stack, the pilot of the single-engine plane that crashed into an Austin, Texas, office building that housed IRS offices.
As government agencies go, the FAA is often justifiably referred to as a tombstone agency, though they are hardly alone.