FAA flying blind with furloughs

Legislation quickly passed by Congress exposes the Obama administration’s hare-brained scheme to use flight delays as leverage against the budget sequestration as the sham it was.

The Senate on Thursday and the House on Friday passed legislation clearly giving the Federal Aviation Administration the power to transfer $235 million between accounts to avoid forcing air traffic controllers to take unpaid days off because of required spending cuts.

FAA chief Michael Huerta had said the agency didn’t have a choice but to force all of its 47,000 employees – which includes about 15,000 air traffic controllers – to take one unpaid off every two weeks through September to meet the requirements of the federal budget sequester.

The FAA brainlessly treated every employee the same, regardless of whether their job was air traffic controller or a clerk, even though the positions are not equal, especially as it impacts the traveling public.

Further the FAA didn’t look at how many flights are being handled in assigning furloughs. A controller at the busiest airport was subject to the same furlough rules as someone working at a facility handling the least number of flights.

The result is that during the past week thousands of flights have been needlessly delayed and passengers inconvenienced to try to make a political point about how painful and how horrible the spending cuts caused by sequestration are.

Of course, the only reason the sequestration is even occurring is because Congress and the administration didn’t reduce the deficit as they had promised in 2011.

Instead of cutting spending like millions of American families have done in recent years, President Barack Obama wants to tax people more, and he is trying to use the sequestration as a club to get his way.

Under the sequestration law, the FAA must cut $637 million – about 4 percent – of its $15 billion annual budget.

According to USA Today, the agency’s plan to get about a third of the savings – $220 million – would come from furloughs, with another $25 million being saved by closing control towers at 149 airports.

The rest – about $392 million – would come from cuts in training, travel and other spending.

What’s puzzling is why the FAA didn’t transfer some of the $400 million in unused airport construction money to avoid furloughing the air traffic controllers. The FAA said it didn’t have the authority to do that, a claim many Republicans and some Democrats dispute.

Late last week, Congress passed legislation specifically giving the FAA power to transfer $235 million from other accounts to avoid further furloughs or reduced operations. This strips away the FAA’s excuse that it lack the authority to transfer the money.

As U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District and chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said last week: “This administration is implementing sequestration to cause the most pain on the traveling public that it possibly can.”

That seems obvious, regardless of the spin the administration wants to put on it.

Now that Congress has taken care of the FAA, Americans should be on guard in case the administration tries to use the same tactic with another agency.