Watch CBS News

Boeing CEO David Calhoun grilled by lawmakers as new whistleblower claims emerge

Boeing CEO testifies on Capitol Hill
Boeing CEO testifies on Capitol Hill 02:16

Boeing CEO David Calhoun faced tough questioning from lawmakers on Tuesday about the aviation giant's safety and manufacturing practices, making his first appearance before Congress since a panel blew off a 737 Max during an Alaska Airlines flight in January. 

Calhoun told the Senate investigations subcommittee that Boeing's culture is "far from perfect," but said the company is "committed to making sure every employee feels empowered to speak up if there is a problem." He also said Boeing is working on improving "transparency and accountability, while elevating employee engagement."

Calhoun, CEO of Boeing since January 2020, prefaced his remarks by standing up and addressing relatives in attendance of those who died in two 737 Max crashes in 2018 and 2019. "We are totally committed in their memory to focus on safety. Again, I am sorry," the executive stated as multiple people held up photographs of those who died. 

"Proud of our safety record"

The harshest line of inquiry came from Sen. Josh Hawley, R.-Mo., who repeatedly asked Calhoun about his salary. Calhoun, who has said he plans to retire at the end of the year, earned $32.8 million in compensation last year.

"You are cutting corners, you are eliminating safety procedures, you are sticking it to your employees, you are cutting back jobs because you are trying to squeeze every piece of profit you can out of this company," Hawley said, his voice rising. "You are strip-mining Boeing."

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun testifies during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 18, 2024. SAMUEL CORUM/AFP via Getty Images

Asked by Hawley why he had not resigned, Calhoun answered: "Senator, I'm sticking this through. I'm proud of having taken the job. I'm proud of our safety record. And I am very proud of our Boeing people."

Hawley interrupted. "You're proud of the safety record?" he asked with incredulity.

Calhoun responded, "I am proud of every action we've taken," prompting the lawmaker to say, "I think it's a travesty that you're still in your job."

Boeing announced in March that Calhoun, who was named CEO in January 2020, would step down from that role by year-end.

Fresh whistleblower allegations

Complicating Calhoun's task was the Senate panel's release on Tuesday of information from two additional Boeing whistleblowers who have recently emerged and raised concerns about the company's practices. 

One, current Boeing employee Sam Mohawk, alleged in a statement made public by the subcommittee that "Boeing is improperly documenting, tracking and storing parts that are damaged or otherwise out of specification, and that those parts are likely being installed on airplanes." He also claimed that his supervisors told him to conceal evidence from the Federal Aviation Administration, according to the Senate subcommittee. 

The second whistleblower, who is anonymous, alleged to the subcommittee that Boeing has sought to eliminate independent quality inspections, instead tapping workers to inspect their own work and that of their co-workers. 

"This is a culture that continues to prioritize profits, push limits and disregard its workers," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut and a Boeing critic who is also the chair of the subcommittee, in a Tuesday statement. "A culture where those who speak up are silenced and sidelined while blame is pushed down to the factory floor."

In April, Boeing whistleblowers told lawmakers that employees who raised concerns about manufacturing defects and quality control problems were ignored or threatened. 

Boeing has denied those allegations and defended the safety of its planes.

FAA investigates possible use of counterfeit titanium in planes, and other top headlines 02:11

In a statement to CBS News, Boeing said it received information about the latest whistleblower concerns on Monday evening and is reviewing their claims. "We continuously encourage employees to report all concerns as our priority is to ensure the safety of our airplanes and the flying public," the company said.

Boeing earlier this year denied claims it had reduced the number of safety inspectors.

Boeing's deadly Max crashes

No one was seriously injured in the Alaska Airlines incident, but the mid-air blowout raised fresh concerns about the company's best-selling commercial aircraft. The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are conducting separate investigations.

"From the beginning, we took responsibility and cooperated transparently with the NTSB and the FAA," Calhoun said in remarks prepared for the hearing. He defended the company's safety culture. "We are taking comprehensive action today to strengthen safety and quality."

Blumenthal has heard that before, when Boeing was reeling from deadly Max crashes in 2018 in Indonesia and 2019 in Ethiopia.

"Five years ago, Boeing made a promise to overhaul its safety practices and culture. That promise proved empty, and the American people deserve an explanation," Blumenthal said when he announced the hearing. He called Calhoun's testimony a necessary step for Boeing to regain public trust.

Calhoun's appearance was also scheduled to take place as the Justice Department considers whether to prosecute Boeing for violating terms of a settlement following the fatal crashes.

Calhoun will leave his position by the end of this year when a new CEO is named.

— Kris Van Cleave, Kate Gibson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.