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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Editor’s note: FAA Shutdown

Political wrangling shut down the FAA for 16 days this summer. Tens of thousands of FAA employees and construction workers responsible for maintaining and upgrading the U.S. airspace were told to stay home.

Hundreds of airport and airspace improvement projects had to be halted. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt admitted during the furlough that the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), FAA’s high-profile airspace modernization program, could face setbacks as a result of this. At the same time, the federal government missed out on hundreds of millions in lost tax revenue from airline tickets during those two weeks.

How NextGen will be impacted remains to be completely clear, but what is clear, at least to me, is that this partial shutdown exemplifies the chief complaint most people have about Washington –– that nothing ever gets done. And that’s embarrassing.

This partial FAA shutdown exemplifies the chief complaint about Washington that nothing ever gets done. And that’s embarrassing.

Congress went on its annual recess in August, and was able to hammer out a funding deal … but only for a month, funding the agency through Sept. 16. Presumably, that will give them time to put together a longer-term funding measure for the agency after they get back from the August recess. However, Congress hasn’t been able to agree on a long-term funding measure for the agency for the last four-and-a-half years, opting instead to pass a long series, 21 to be exact, of extensions. My guess is that there will be another extension on Sept. 16.

Funding the world’s largest, and safest, airspace is a complicated proposition, to be sure. Which airports get the money for improvements, how much to invest in Next- Gen, will it include provisions to allow for the formation of unions at airlines I get it; it’s complicated. Further complicating this particular debate, Congress has had a busy summer; this extension was held up, I presume, by the Congressional debt-ceiling debate, which, too, went down the wire.

But, Congress has had four years to hammer out a long-term funding framework. Four years. How much has happened in four years? This furlough was unnecessary and unfair to those thousands of employees and contractors, and, I don’t believe it’s too dramatic to say, the flying public. The shutdown was completely avoidable. It was not as if this expiration was the result of a sudden, unexpected or unpredictable event; Congress knew it was happening, but didn’t act. And as a result, numerous construction projects, many related to the all-important NextGen program, are behind schedule and may take weeks, and a lot more money, to ramp up to full speed again.

The comments section on our website has been flooded with respondents giving their opinions about why FAA shutdown happened and how it can be avoided in the future. At least in this space, it seems consensus can be reached –– it’s Congress’s fault.

Here’s a sampling of the most interesting:

➤ “We the people need to petition for a whole new Congress. If the ones that were elected are not going to earn their pay, then why should they be paid while others are going hungry? Maybe if all Americans deducted 50 days of income taxes, since we are apparently not currently being represented in Washington for the next 50 days and we petition for a special election to vote into office new representation, then maybe Congress would pay attention to the people. What happened to representation for the people, by the people.”

➤ “What happened to the Washington we once held in such deep respect? The wheels have surely come off the bus.”

➤ “Unbelievable... It is time to rid our government of these career politicians who clearly work for themselves, and the public who elected them.”

➤ “Unless the government learns to operate within a budget (like the rest of us) all the great programs will just run into another brick wall. Don’t make this an emotional appeal about layoffs. It is about fiscal responsibility with all of our tax dollars.”

In any case, let me know what you think about Congress’s actions. Comment on stories on the Web www.avionicstoday.com, or join the conversation on Twitter (@AvionicsMag) or on Facebook.

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