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Boeing 737 MAX airplanes are parked along the west side of Boeing Field in Seattle as the company awaits FAA approval for the jets to return to service.

Boeing 737 MAX airplanes are parked along the west side of Boeing Field in Seattle as the company awaits FAA approval for the jets to return to service. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times/TNS)

SEATTLE - Two U.S. House leaders urged Boeing Chairman and Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg on Thursday to make company employees available to answer questions about the development of the 737 MAX, ratcheting up congressional scrutiny into two fatal crashes of the jetliner.

In a letter to Muilenburg, Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, chair of the Aviation subcommittee, formally requested interviews with several Boeing employees.

"The Committee believes certain employees may be able to shed light on issues central to the Committee's investigation, including information about the design, development and certification of the 737 MAX," their letter said.

The committee request was made as a courtesy, without using its subpoena power.

The letter noted that while the Chicago-based company has provided a substantial number of documents to the committee in the past several months and shared "senior management's perspective," the committee needs to "hear from relevant Boeing employees who can provide unique insight into specific issues and decisions in a way that senior Boeing management cannot."

In a statement responding to the letter, a Boeing spokesperson said, "We're deeply disappointed the committee chose to release private correspondence given our extensive cooperation to date. We will continue to be transparent and responsive to the committee."

DeFazio and Larsen, in a news release, didn't identify whom they want to interview, nor provide any details about those employees' roles in the development of the jetliner.

Boeing's senior leaders have yet to testify before House and Senate committees looking into issues arising from the crashes, ranging from regulatory oversight of Boeing to the impact on relatives of the 346 people killed in the crashes off Indonesia on Oct. 29 and in Ethiopia on March 10.

Separately, the U.S. Justice Department is conducting a wide-ranging criminal investigation into the development of the 737 MAX in the wake of the crashes, including FBI agents visiting the homes of Boeing employees in so-called "knock-and-talks," according to a source familiar with the confidential activity who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Also, the Department of Transportation's Inspector General is conducting an administrative audit into the certification of the MAX.

DeFazio and Larsen urged Muilenburg to make the employees available as soon as possible, disclosing that the transportation committee is preparing for another hearing.

Boeing has provided 300,000 pages of documents and detailed technical information to the committee, as well as briefings from senior technical executives, according to the company.

Larsen's subcommittee held a hearing in July, featuring a Canadian man whose wife, three children and mother-in-law were killed in the crash in Ethiopia. Paul Njoroge, a Toronto investment adviser, accused Boeing of sacrificing safety for profits while avoiding the eye of federal regulators.

In March, Daniel Elwell, the then-acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) fiercely defended the agency's oversight of the Boeing 737 in intense and sometimes combative Senate testimony.

"We do not allow self-certification of any kind," Elwell said, even as he confirmed that his agency delegated the review of a new safety system on Boeing's 737 MAX to the company itself, as The Seattle Times reported in an investigation.

His acknowledgment came during questioning from lawmakers over the FAA's role in approving the 737 MAX and a piece of safety software, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). That system, implicated in both crashes, was a new feature on the 737 MAX to help the plane avoid a potential stall that could be caused by the larger engines on the jet.

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