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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Hawley pushes Boeing CEO to resign amid Senate firestorm over plane safety

The Missouri Republican accused Boeing’s top official of “strip-mining” the company for profit while allowing safety standards to fall by the wayside.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Boeing CEO David Calhoun found his employment in question Tuesday, as Missouri Senator Josh Hawley suggested that the aerospace executive should resign from his post in disgrace amid swirling complaints about the company’s safety record.

Hawley, a Republican, torched Calhoun during an afternoon hearing in the Senate Homeland Security Committee, where the Boeing CEO was testifying about recent whistleblower reports that several of the company’s airliners were subject to production safety issues — and that those who complained faced retaliation from their employers.

“You’re cutting corners, you’re eliminating safety procedures, you’re sticking it to your employees, you’re cutting back jobs,” Hawley fumed at Calhoun.

Boeing finds itself back under the congressional microscope just months after it made headlines for an in-flight incident involving one of its planes owned by Alaska Airlines. The airliner, a Boeing 737 Max, lost a door plug in midair, ripping a hole in the fuselage. Fortunately, no one on board the aircraft was killed.

The January incident sparked a wave of consternation from lawmakers and reports that Boeing was cutting corners in its quality control systems.

Whistleblowers have said, among other things, that the company has improperly documented damaged or defective parts, installed them on airplanes, and concealed that information from federal regulators. More than a dozen such whistleblowers have come to Congress with what they say is evidence of Boeing’s malfeasance.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Hawley contended Calhoun wasn’t interested in maintaining Boeing’s safety record or responding to the complaints of its employees.

“I think you’re focused on exactly what you were hired to do,” he said. “You’re trying to squeeze every piece of profit out of this company. You’re strip mining it.”

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee’s investigations subpanel, said the allegations about Boeing’s safety culture were “chilling,” and that while Calhoun has a duty to the company’s shareholders, he would be doing them a disservice by not addressing these charges.

“Boeing needs to stop thinking about the next earnings call and start thinking about the next generation,” he said.

Hawley, though, was blunt about his thoughts on Calhoun.

“I think it is a tragedy you are still in your job,” he said.

The Boeing CEO, though, stood by his company’s safety record and corporate culture.

“Much has been said about Boeing’s culture,” Calhoun told lawmakers. “We heard those concerns loud and clear. Our culture is far from perfect, but we are taking action and making progress.”

Boeing’s top official said that he had listened to and considered the complaints of whistleblowers, adding that he cites and rewards employees who bring forward issues even if it means negative consequences for the company’s bottom line.

Calhoun — who took over at Boeing in 2019 after former CEO Dennis Muilenberg was fired —  was also adamant that workplace retaliation against whistleblowers should not be tolerated at his company, despite reports from some former employees who have said that superiors reassigned them or threatened them with termination for pointing out safety issues.

“We have fired and disciplined people,” Calhoun told senators — although he would not say how many people had been punished for retaliation, citing privacy concerns. The Boeing CEO added that he had not personally spoken to any of the whistleblowers who came forward.

Calhoun further sought to distance his company from some of the safety concerns raised by former employees, pointing out that apart from the Alaska Airlines door plug malfunction many quality control issues occur “downstream” from Boeing’s manufacturing process.

“We cannot allow one unsafe airplane to leave our factory,” he said.

Tuesday’s hearing also produced some tense moments between Boeing’s CEO and the gathered audience, some of whom were the families of victims of two 737 Max crashes, which occurred in part thanks to faulty avionics software.

Calhoun stood during the hearing to apologize to the families, later telling lawmakers that Boeing took full responsibility for the defects which led to the crashes.

But some lawmakers, including Hawley, were not convinced.

“Boeing’s planes are falling out of the sky in pieces,” the Missouri Republican said in a Tuesday afternoon post on X, formerly Twitter, “but the CEO makes $33 million a year. What exactly is he getting paid to do?”

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is currently weighing whether to criminally charge Boeing with violating a $2.5 billion settlement agreement that paused separate charges against the company related to the safety of its 737 Max planes. The agency said that Boeing did not implement a compliance and ethics program that would detect violations of U.S. fraud laws within the company.

The Justice Department is slated to decide whether to charge Boeing in July.

Follow @BenjaminSWeiss
Categories / Government, National, Politics

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