The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

In Jeopardy: Shuster’s Loftier Vision for Air Traffic Control Modernization

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.


In today’s early edition of “Morning Consult,” an online digest of relevant public policy activities in the nation’s capital, the journal highlighted the disparities between the Senate and House versions of legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  In April, the Senate passed their version overwhelmingly (95-3), while the House bill (approved by the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee) has not made it to the floor yet.

Unfortunately for T&I Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who has been tapped by Speaker Paul Ryan to merge the two pieces of legislation, the ease of the Senate bill’s passage, coupled with the reluctance of many in the House to sign on to Chairman Shuster’s bold vision for FAA reform and modernization, portends significant pressure for the House to largely recede to the much less imaginative Senate version, which is pretty much business-as-usual through 2017.

It is unfortunate, because H.R. 4441, the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act, contains some compelling reforms, including Chairman Shuster’s vision for a transformational air traffic control (ATC) apparatus, which he has described as “a federally chartered, fully independent, not-for-profit corporation to operate and modernize the ATC system.”  The Council on Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW) co-signed an open letter to Congress dated February 8, 2016, with several other fiscally conservative organizations, stating (in part) that Chairman Shuster’s framework is “an excellent foundation upon which to build a new model for an operation historically mired in old-style thinking and fiscal ineptitude.”

On January 15, 2016, the FAA Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report, “FAA Reforms Have Not Achieved Expected Cost, Efficiency, and Modernization Outcomes.”  The OIG reported that eight of FAA’s 15 recent major system acquisitions were over budget by a total of $3.8 billion, and eight were behind schedule by an average of more than four years.  The critique was yet another on a long list of warnings that the agency is fundamentally incapable of managing such ambitious tasks as NextGen, a project to build a twenty-first century ATC network.  Today, despite the fact that the FAA’s budget nearly doubled between 1996 and 2012 and personnel levels remained constant, NextGen remains a distant goal.

To quote from the February 8 joint letter, “A better approach is needed now. To us it is an axiomatic economic principle that user-funded, user-accountable entities are far more capable of delivering innovation and timely improvements in a cost-effective manner than government agencies.  By drawing upon the positive experiences of dozens of nations that have freed their air traffic control enterprises from the stifling grip of bureaucracies, Chairman Shuster’s framework has much greater promise of fulfilling the objectives of NextGen.  If this framework is properly developed into legislation and implemented, consumers will experience fewer travel delays, the movement of goods will become more efficient, aircraft will burn less fuel, air safety margins will increase, capacity will expand, responsiveness and transparency will improve, political micromanagement will recede, costs will be easier to control and sustain, and the economy could experience tens of billions of dollars in growth.”

If the limited time remaining in this year’s legislative calendar forces him to acquiesce to the pressures favoring the Senate version, Chairman Shuster should use the intervening year to build support (in both Chambers) for his forward-thinking and innovative proposals.

 

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