Congress gets to work

WASHINGTON. D.C. – Congress has a plateful of aviation issues to work on and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has started to take bites into them.

Committee Chairman Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) called a meeting of the full committee in the early days of the 111th Congress to set out the agenda. Then, just two days after the inauguration, the committee heard testimony from governors, manufacturers and others about how best to allot money in the proposed stimulus package for transportation needs. Expectations are that funds allotted for airport development would be $3 billion. Many states have airport development programs ready to go if funds become available, according to the National Association of State Aviation Officials.

Oberstar stressed the need for quick action, but the stimulus package doesn’t have complete support. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) commented that the number of jobs expected to be created by a new stimulus package divided into the amount of money that the plan calls for distributing would amount to $200,000 per job.

The Congressional Budget Office, a non-partisan group, has said any stimulus package would not produce jobs for about two years. Questioning this, Oberstar declared jobs could be created within four weeks of release of funds. He also revealed that, by June, he plans to have a bill that will restructure the Department of Transportation. It would require all agencies involved in transportation, including the FAA, to meet once a month and work on intermodal issues.

The Aviation Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), will hold its first meeting for reauthorization of the FAA Feb. 11. The full House approved reauthorization in the immediate past session, but the Senate failed to act. Oberstar continued to nudge the Senate to action, but the 110th Congress closed with only another temporary extension. Costello was instrumental in cutting user fees from the reauthorization bill passed in the House last term.
Reauthorization of the National Transportation Safety Board is another issue to come up.

Another major step for this Congress will be to approve an administrator for the FAA. Acting Administrator Robert Sturgell left the office in January and Lynne Osmus was named acting administrator Jan. 16. She will hold the position until the Obama administration nominates someone for the five-year permanent term and that person is confirmed. Osmus was assistant administrator for Security and Hazardous Materials.
Both the reauthorization of the FAA and confirmation of a permanent administrator have been held up in the Senate. With the Democrats in control in the White House and on Capitol Hill, faster action is expected.

The White House has ordered all departments and agencies to put on hold any new and pending regulations until they have been checked by the new administration. This could affect various FAA proposals. How long this hold will be in place or what the outcome might be is not yet known.

Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

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