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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Obama: Sequester Cuts Will Cause ‘More Delays at Airports’

Woodrow Bellamy III

President Barack Obama on Tuesday warned that the $85 billion across-the-board federal budget cuts scheduled for March 1st will lead to canceled flights and travel delays at airports across the nation if the sequester is not averted.

Unless Congress agrees to delay or change the cuts, the Office of Management and Budget will cut $85 billion in federal spending for the fiscal year 2013, as mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act. The cuts have not been detailed, but in recent weeks Obama and other government officials have warned of the impact the reduced spending would have on critical federal workers, such as air traffic controllers.

“Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country,” the president said during a press conference at the White House. 

Recently some of the nation’s top transportation officials have made similar warnings about the impact of the sequester on the nation’s air transportation system. In a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski last week, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that “the most serious result” of sequestration would be the $600 million funding cut to FAA’s operating budget.

Additionally, the “vast majority” of the agency’s nearly 47,000 employees would be furloughed at least one day per pay period through the end of the fiscal year in September, LaHood said.

“The furlough of a large number of air traffic controllers and technicians will require a reduction in air traffic to a level that can be safely managed by the remaining staff,” LaHood wrote in the letter. “The result will be felt across the country, as the volume of travel must be decreased. Sequestration could slow air traffic levels in major cities, which will result in delays and disruptions across the country during the critical summer travel season.”

The reduction in the volume of travel would primarily lead to the delays at airports Obama referred to, as more travelers would be squeezed onto a reduced number of flights to choose from.

LaHood also remarked on how the reduced spending would impact NextGen, FAA’s comprehensive modernization of the nation’s air traffic system from radar to satellite-based operations. If the agency is forced to layoff and furlough air traffic controllers, NextGen implementation could be delayed because the reduced staff would have less capacity to maintain the current system while also implementing and testing critical components of the new system.

Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee released a report last week outlining the impact of the budget cuts on air traffic controllers, similarly stating that the cuts would be detrimental. According to the report, FAA would implement a hiring freeze rendering it unable to replace current air traffic controllers, 30 percent of which are eligible to retire this year. 

House Speaker John Boehner responded to the president’s comments Tuesday, agreeing that the cuts need to be avoided while also noting that other spending cuts would need to be implemented in order to avoid them.

“Replacing the president’s sequester will require a plan to cut spending that will put us on the path to a budget that is balanced in 10 years. To keep these first responders on the job, what other spending is the president willing to cut?” said Boehner. More

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