The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Because They Could

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


Americans need to take heed to the shenanigans that the Obama Administration has undertaken in response to the sequester, which began March 1.  Its action in the recent air traffic control episode to slow down air travel demonstrates arrogance and indifference toward the American people.  In response, Congress had to pass legislation to halt the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from furloughing air traffic controllers.  The law gives the authority to the DOT secretary to move as much as $253 million funds within the agency to stop air traffic control furloughs.  The money will come from airport improvement funds.

However, several lawmakers and policy wonks said the law was only necessary to stop an impetuous administration from punishing travelers because it wanted to continue its narrative that any cut to the federal government could only be made with severe pain.  The Wall Street Journal pointed out that the “FAA's all-hands furloughs managed to convert a less than 4% FAA budget cut into a 10% air traffic control cut that would delay 40% of flights.  The 6,700 flights that the FAA threatened to force off schedule every day is twice as many delays as the single worst travel day of 2012.”

Representative Bill Shuster (R-PA), chairman of the House of Representatives Transportation Committee said, “there are some in the Obama administration who thought inflicting pain on the public would give the president more leverage to avoid making necessary spending cuts and to impose more tax hikes on the American people.”

The government must and can cut back on its spending.  It should be noted that spending on the FAA for 2013 was budgeted at $16 billion.  Yet somehow, in 2008, when the FAA had a budget of $14.8 billion, almost $1.2 billion less, air traffic controllers managed to stay on the job every day.

Of course, there have been plenty of instances when the government was facing a complete shutdown, not just a reduction in funding, and air traffic controllers stayed on the job.  This usually can happen when Congress has not reached an agreement on the appropriations (spending) bills in time for the new fiscal year, which begins October 1.  But in those instances, “essential personal,” which are determined by agency heads, would be allowed to work.  In April 2011, when a temporary spending bill was due to expire, there were discussions about who would be allowed to stay on the job and who would be temporarily furloughed.  At that time, the Obama Administration said that those employees necessary to protect life and property would continue working.  It included the military, law enforcement such as the FBI or the Border Patrol, and the air traffic controllers.

Perhaps Congress should consider going even further to avoid a future situation like this.  Many countries have privatized their air traffic controllers without any problems and Citizens Against Government Waste has long supported such a move here in the U.S.  Much of what the traveling public unnecessarily experienced two weeks ago could have been avoided with a private air traffic control force in place.

Why did the Obama Administration yank the public’s chain on air travel?  Because it could.  It wanted to show its displeasure with sequestration budget cuts, it wanted to make a political point, and it wanted it to hurt. 

Unfortunately, acts like this may not end here.  Instead of government control being reduced, it is expanding.  The administration, with allies in Congress, is doing what it can to have the government run even more aspects of our lives.  Examples:

  • We have seen a huge increase in people collecting disability checks, some 5.4 million since President Obama was sworn in. 
  • Food stamps are now being utilized by 15% of American families.
  • The entire guaranteed student loan program for college is being run by the Department of Education.
  • Picking winners and losers in the energy sector, the government provided billions of taxpayer-funded federal grants to “green energy” companies.  Unfortunately, this lead to billions being lost to bad management and bankruptcy.
  • And of course there is Obamacare, the crème de la crème where the federal government will now control the healthcare of every American citizen.

The federal government is immersing itself more and more into our daily lives and more people and businesses are relying on Washington for their every need.

There will be another budget crunch that will come along and require a necessary reduction in spending because our leviathan government is deeply in debt. When that happens, what strings will be pulled to inflict pain on American citizens to protest those cuts?  The only way to reverse such control is to reduce the size of government.

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