Congress recessed for its August break on Tuesday without extending FAA funds, leaving more than 4,000 FAA employees likely out of work until Congress reconvenes in September.
The partial shutdown, which began July 22 when the previous extension expired, has the potential to cost the government $1 billion in lost tax revenue. Additionally, according to FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt, the shutdown could be a significant setback to the agency’s Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen).
On Wednesday, President Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urged lawmakers to return to Washington to pass a funding bill, and put thousands back to work. "Congress has decided to play some politics with it and as a consequence they left town without getting this extension done," Obama said.
Industry officials made similar calls to Congress on Thursday. “Members of Congress flew home for five weeks using the same aviation system they now refuse to fund. They literally flew over hundreds of airport projects that now have ‘stop work’ orders. They flew over the homes of 4,000 FAA employees and 70,000 construction workers that have no income at the moment. This is outrageous and downright infuriating. They are elected to serve the public and help ensure that we have a safe and efficient airspace system. Congress has not finished its job and should not have left," said National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) President Paul Rinaldi. “Our message to Congress is simple: Your actions are inconceivable and irresponsible. Come back to Washington immediately and fix this. Our aviation system, which is the world’s best, and these laid off employees must not be used as pawns in a political game that is on its way to costing over $1 billion in lost revenue that goes toward making our system safer, more efficient and more modern.”
In a conference call Tuesday with reporters, Babbitt and LaHood made a last-ditch effort to persuade the Senate to pass the House version of the funding reauthorization bill before it began its August recess. However, the Senate recessed without passing the extension; the House recessed Monday. FAA employees are facing up to 50 days without pay if Congress fails to address the bill until after Labor Day.
At the same time, the two stressed that the safety of the flying public will not be compromised. “No safety issues will be compromised,” LaHood said. “Flying is safe. Air traffic controllers are guiding airplanes. Safety inspectors are on duty and are doing their job. No one needs to worry about safety.”
The House passed its version of the funding extension last month. Debate on the reauthorization has centered on funding levels for rural airports and a provision that would allow airline employees to unionize more easily.
Since the shutdown began, about 40 FAA safety inspectors have been working without pay, using their personal credit cards to travel, stay in hotels and eat in order to continue inspections in hopes that the agency can reimburse them when Congress takes action on the bill.
The partial FAA shutdown has halted work on more than 200 airport infrastructure construction projects around the country, which employ an additional 70,000 people.
The FAA Managers Association (FAAMA) today announced the establishment of a nation-wide Furlough Relief Fund that will provide critical assistance to furloughed FAA employees. “The creation of this fund is actually in response to appeals for our members who want to help their colleagues through this difficult time,” said David Conley, FAAMA president.
FAA has not had a permanent funding structure in place since 2007. Since then the agency has operated under a series of 21 funding extensions.