FAA Whistleblowers: We're Being Punished

Two Federal Aviation Authority whistleblowers said they're being punished for raising safety concerns, even as they won awards for their courage Wednesday.

"I'm shackled to my desk pushing paperwork," said FAA inspector Bobby Boutris. "I have not seen an airplane for six months."

When Boutris and fellow inspector Doug Peters sounded the alarm about improper safety inspections at Southwest Airlines, it led to hundreds of grounded planes, thousands of cancelled flights and an unprecedented crackdown on airline maintenance.

But since they testified on Capitol Hill, the two men said they've lost out on promotions and been excluded from important safety decisions, reports CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes.

"Does it make you regret coming forward?" asked Peters. "Absolutely not. I mean there are pressures involved with basically turning in your own agency, but I'm here for the flying public."

What's even more stunning, according to federal investigators, is the number of FAA employees who have followed his lead.

"We have seen a surge in whistleblower disclosures from FAA employees who see wrongdoing and come forward to report it," said Jim Mitchell of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

There have been 32 disclosures so far in 2008, compared to just 11 in all of 2007.

Complaints range from shoddy inspections to unreported air traffic control mistakes, and include more charges that the FAA punishes employees who speak up.

According to Mitchell, some agency employees have complained of being demoted or moved to different jobs.

FAA officials maintain the agency is working to promote a "culture of safety," while vowing to "take action against anyone who acts inappropriately toward whistleblowers."

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.