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FAA Policy About Hiring People with Intellectual Disabilities Has Existed for Over a Decade

Posts by Elon Musk and others implied that a long-standing policy was the result of a recent emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.

Published Jan 15, 2024

 (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Image Via Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

On Jan. 14, 2024, Fox News and the New York Post, among others, ran a story that not-so-subtly tried to link a Jan. 5 Alaska Airlines incident — in which a Boeing 737 Max 9 lost a plug door mid-flight — to an allegedly new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives:

The Federal Aviation Administration is actively recruiting workers who suffer “severe intellectual” disabilities, psychiatric problems and other mental and physical conditions under a diversity and inclusion hiring initiative spelled out on the agency’s website.

“Targeted disabilities are those disabilities that the Federal government, as a matter of policy, has identified for special emphasis in recruitment and hiring,” the FAA’s website states. “They include hearing, vision, missing extremities, partial paralysis, complete paralysis, epilepsy, severe intellectual disability, psychiatric disability and dwarfism.” [...]

The FAA’s website shows the agency’s guidelines on diversity hiring were last updated on March 23, 2022. [...] All eyes have been on the FAA and airline industry in recent days, after a plug door on a Boeing 737 Max 9 blew out during an Alaska Airlines flight on Jan. 5.

These reports were heavily shared on social media, in part thanks to a post on X by Elon Musk:

The cited FAA text is real, but the implication that the policy is new, or that it stems from efforts that began under U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and President Biden, was demonstrably false. It has been included on the FAA's website since at least as early as February 2013. It was present during the entirety of the Trump administration, and it remains present at the time of this reporting.

In response to their reporting, the FAA told Fox News that their hiring policies do not negate the need for candidates to meet rigorous qualifications, depending on position:

The FAA employs tens of thousands of people for a wide range of positions, from administrative roles to oversight and execution of critical safety functions. Like many large employers, the agency proactively seeks qualified candidates from as many sources as possible, all of whom must meet rigorous qualifications that of course will vary by position.

Media coverage provided no evidence linking any DEI initiative with the Alaska Airlines incident. On Jan. 11, 2024, the FAA announced it would launch an investigation to look into whether Boeing “failed to ensure completed products conformed to its approved design and were in a condition for safe operation in compliance with FAA regulations.”

Sources

Colton, Emma. “FAA’s Diversity Push Includes Focus on Hiring People with ‘Severe Intellectual’ and ‘Psychiatric’ Disabilities.” Fox News, 14 Jan. 2024, https://www.foxnews.com/us/faas-diversity-push-includes-focus-hiring-people-severe-intellectual-psychiatric-disabilities.

Colton, Emma. “FAA’s Diversity Push Includes Focus on Hiring People with ‘Severe Intellectual’ and ‘Psychiatric’ Disabilities.” New York Post, 14 Jan. 2024, https://nypost.com/2024/01/14/news/faas-diversity-push-includes-hiring-people-with-intellectual-and-psychiatric-disabilities/.

Diversity and Inclusion. 8 Jan. 2019, https://web.archive.org/web/20190108213923/https://www.faa.gov/jobs/diversity_inclusion/.

---. 26 Feb. 2013, https://web.archive.org/web/20130226035813/http://www.faa.gov/jobs/diversity_inclusion/.

Diversity and Inclusion | Federal Aviation Administration. https://www.faa.gov/jobs/diversity_inclusion. Accessed 15 Jan. 2024.

“FAA to Investigate Boeing after Door Plug Falls off Alaska Airlines Plane Midair.” NBC News, 11 Jan. 2024, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/faa-investigate-boeing-door-plug-falls-alaska-airlines-plane-midair-rcna133491.

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.

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