Martin Luther King’s kind of bureaucracy: the FAA

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” — MLK, August 28, 1963

In the last couple of weeks I applied for a National Science Foundation grant (to go to Antarctica as part of their artists and writers program) and an FAA flight instructor’s certificate, both of which involved cumbersome Web-based application systems.  The NSF won’t let you proceed with any application unless you tell them your race, your sex, and your “ethnicity” (Hispanic/non-Hispanic).  They say that they won’t look at an application unless the cover sheet includes an explanation of how you are going to spend the money in a way that helps what they call “underrepresented groups” (i.e., you’re supposed to say how you are going to hire people with particular skin colors or sex chromosomes).

In using the FAA system a few days later it struck me as odd that they didn’t ask my race, sex, or ethnicity.  In fact this might be one of the last government agencies that handles applications for its services without regard to race, sex, or ethnicity.  The FAA doesn’t say “We really like your skin color, Mr. Airline Transport Pilot certificate applicant, so for you we’re going to cut the required number of hours of experience from 1500 to 500.”

[In case you’re curious, the NSF won’t let me know for some weeks but folks who’ve gotten the grants say that one is almost always denied as a first-time applicant.  I passed my flight instructor test with the FAA examiner (3.5 hours of oral exam plus 1.7 hours of flying a rented Piper Arrow with retractable landing gear).]

9 thoughts on “Martin Luther King’s kind of bureaucracy: the FAA

  1. You’ve probably already read up on Antarctica (fiction and non-fiction), but in case you haven’t read “Big Dead Place” by Nicholas Johnson, I highly recommend it. Johnson also edits, which is another great source for Antarctica information.

    PatrickG: Perhaps you should do some basic research before accusing the NSF of breaking the law.

  2. After PatrickG’s comment, I actually went back and read the NSF-race-required posting. I’m at a loss to identify the sentence in which the NSF is “accused” of anything, let alone “breaking the law.”

    It seems obvious to me that the requirement is not a good one. Perhaps so-knowledgeable Patrick G will be kind enough to tell us what the law is, and how NSF is NOT breaking it? To me the requirement seems prima facie discriminatory.

  3. How do you know what the nsf does with the info? You are assuming that they lower their standards for minrorities (“I like the color of your skin…etc.”) Bullshit. That’s just your bigoted view and shows why we need Affirmative Action in the first place.

  4. We really don’t know if the NSF favors protected classes of people but it comes down to whether or not we want directed discrimination to “correct” past discrimination. I have personally been passed over for more than one job so that companies could have a more “balanced” workforce (one due to sex, the other for a minority). This is not a guess, I was told bluntly that I was better qualified but still could not have the positions, but maybe if I waited 6 months… Anyhow, my feeling is that institutionalized discrimination is just as bad as what used to be practiced. I never discriminated based on stupid factors such as skin color, I always hired on performance and ability and feel that companies that use poor criteria such as that will eventually do worse in the marketplace anyhow. Recently we had a number of real estate agents in the area indicted on discrimination charges. Stupid! Come to my office, regardless of your color, sexual orientation, or whatever, and I will show you every single house in your price range. Think about the economics of that one.

  5. I don’t see a comment by a “PatrickG”. Was it dropped due to a bug or did PhilipG delete it?

    Speaking of which, I see a PeterG also left a comment. What’s with males with the initials P.G. around here?

  6. Peter, I find your post confusing. First of all, you say you were passed over because you were not the right sex or ethnicity. You say that you were told that you were better qualified, but that you could not have the job. What an odd conversation — and illegal, I might add. Affirmative Action is not targeted dicrimination or choosing a less-qualified person over a more-qualified person. It is choosing the minority “all other things being equal.”

    You think a “Welcome” sign is the same thing as a “Keep Out” sign. Yes, they are both signs, but they different intents.

    Then you say ” Recently we had a number of real estate agents in the area indicted on discrimination charges. Stupid! ” Who are you calling stupid?

  7. Philip said:

    “In case you’re curious, the NSF won’t let me know for some weeks but folks who’ve gotten the grants say that one is almost always denied as a first-time applicant.”

    Some weeks is right. That’d be about 25 weeks on the grant I applied for in January. I’m still awaiting the verdict. The NSF web site says it will take up to 6 months — only half a month to go for me.

  8. Bob: Those of us with the initials PG have to stick together, ya know. Cassford: perhaps you are not aware of mandated quotas at some of the larger companies. While Affirmative Action itself may not specify percentages of minority employment, there are plenty of cases where companies were forced to agree to this. A famous case was New York Telephone. Regarding the target of my “stupid” comment, it referred to any real estate agent who doesn’t show every prospective buyer *every* applicable property, regardless of race or sex or whatever. To do this is economically inefficient. Update: I have since learned that the criteria used in the investigation was highly suspect, and is being investigated, so this story may turn out to be very different than we know from the media.

  9. Cassford: Another comment… I have seen real discrimination and I can tell you it will never be legislated away. Unfortunately, some people’s attitudes are quite ingrained. But, those who discriminate (in the sense of the word as we mean it) will lose well qualified personnel to those who do not so it will be the power of the marketplace that drives changes. Regarding the legality of discrimination, it is not illegal to discriminate against a non-protected class of people.

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