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Privatization Debate to Continue at Congress Committee Meeting

By S.L. Fuller | January 27, 2017
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To privatize air traffic control or not to privatize: that has been, and continues to be, the question. Rep. Bill Shuster, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said that the committee plans to hold its organizational meeting for the 115th Congress on Jan. 31. This could set the stage for future debate over the privatization issue.

Photo: Nicozica / CC BY-SA 4.0

At this meeting, the committee rules package will be considered, as well as the oversight and authorization plan. Subcommittee leadership and assignment confirmations are also on the agenda. 

“Last Congress, the committee accomplished a great deal in a strong bipartisan manner to improve the nation’s infrastructure and transportation systems. The FAST Act, WRDA 2016, our PRRIA passenger rail and Amtrak reforms, the PIPES Act, the Coast Guard Authorization Act, and other Committee measures are now law because of the hard work and dedication of our members,” says Shuster. 

Upcoming, Shuster aims to add an air traffic control decision to that list. As The Washington Post explains, Shuster proposed last year to move 14,000 air traffic controllers and the NextGen modernization staff to a nonprofit corporation, allowing the FAA to retain an oversight role. The main weapon used both for and against the idea of privatization is NextGen. It’s used as a selling point for the FAA for budget justification and as a target against the FAA in light of its sluggish movement toward fruition. Air traffic control privatization would mean private funding for NextGen initiatives.

Some members of Congress feel as though the nominee for secretary of the U.S. Transportation Dept. could effect such a decision. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has already recommended Elaine Chao for appointment to the position, however parts of the confirmation process still need to be completed. Chao has shown a preference for privatization and less government regulation in previous positions, including U.S. Labor secretary. She did not show a preference one way or another during her recent Senate hearing, stating recognition for the contention between the House and Senate on the issue.

President Donald Trump has voiced his intent to reduce the federal workforce, which would be a result of air traffic control privatization. But so far, news outlets report he has not spoken of air traffic control specifically.

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