WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sequestration hasn’t caused the sky to fall in Washington, but there are indications some efforts are being made to pull it down to meet the dire threats of disasters that have been put forth.
The FAA notified employees of intended furloughs of up to 11 work days beginning about April 7. Contract control towers are threatened to be shut. FAA-operated control towers might be put on shorter hours and staff reduced at many. Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, which has two towers, might have one closed, stopping operations on two runways. Maintenance workers might be furloughed.
But will any of this really happen? If the FAA is anything like the Agriculture Department, any cuts will be those having the direst effects. A leaked memo from a regional director to his offices said however any reduction in spending is made “you are to make sure you are not contradicting what we said the impact would be.”
Even Congress can’t get answers. The chairmen of the Senate and House Aviation Committees are getting stiff-armed. On Feb. 25, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) wrote to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood asking what route the FAA would take in reducing spending. To date— even after a second letter — no answer has been forthcoming.
They reminded LaHood that since sequestration was signed into law by President Obama on Aug. 2, 2011, little or no planning seems to have taken place at agencies within the DOT. Since August 2012, Congress has been asking DOT and FAA officials for detailed sequestration budget plans, but have received only limited and incomplete information about how sequestration will affect the FAA.
FAA spending over the past few years has shown several areas where belts could be tightened to prevent any cuts in more important places. These include $179 million for FAA employee travel and $143 million a year to maintain a fleet of 46 aircraft. Thune and Shuster say the FAA has $2.7 billion in non-personnel operations costs that should have been examined before furloughs were even considered.
In their latest letter to LaHood, the members of Congress stated: “Since our previous requests for information have gone unanswered, we cannot assume, nor do we believe, that all savings options were explored before the choice was made to furlough employees, close towers, and inconvenience the flying public you are supposed to serve.”
Early reports indicated sequestration would require one or possibly two-day furloughs every pay period — every two weeks. How that prediction turned into 11-day furloughs and massive closures is not known.
Seeing how members of Congress are being rebuffed, this writer doesn’t feel hurt when phone calls to the FAA press office are not returned.