FAA using furloughs to politicize sequester, lawmakers say

Politics,Beltway Confidential,Transportation,Michal Conger,Fiscal Policy

Federal Aviation Administration officials could have avoided disrupting air travel by not furloughing controllers, as was done in the past, lawmakers have told Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

“It has been questioned why air traffic controllers are not exempt from furloughs,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., andtransportation subcommittee chairman Rep. Bill Schuster, R-Pa., said in an April 25 letter.

“According to some members of the aviation community, the FAA did not try to mitigate the impacts to air travel by weighing the furloughs of more essential personnel such as air traffic controllers, against less essential personnel so that more essential employees could remain at work,” Issa and Schuster told LaHood.

“Likewise, 12 aviation representatives, including airlines and unions, wrote to the White House to express concern that it was ‘unprecedented’ for air traffic controllers to be furloughed, noting they had been exempt in the past,” Issa and Schuster said.

The two congressmen also asked LaHood for an explanation of why “at least some senior FAA officials believe that the agency has both the resources and the budgetary flexibility to avoid the furloughs,” noting that “if true, this information raises the prospect that politicized sequestration adjustments are causing unnecessary disruptions to the aviation community and the American public.”

That possibility appeared to be bolstered by an email made public last month indicating that members of President Obama’s administration are trying to make sequestration as painful to the public as possible.

The FAA’s budget backs that theory. According to FAA budget documents, the agency’s budget request for the 2013 fiscal year was $15.146 billion. The FAA’s actual, post-sequestration budget for FY 2013 was $15.371 billion — $225 million more than requested, as Phil Kerpen at American Commitment noted Thursday.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned of drastic delays before sequestration took effect, and some delays started this week as the furloughs began.

The House Committee on Appropriations grilled FAA administrator Michael Huerta at a hearing Wednesday on whether FAA could have avoided the delays.

“This imperial attitude … on the part of the administration is disgusting,” said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., according to Fox News“Then to turn around and try to blame the difficulties of flying on Congress is unacceptable.”

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