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Washington Plays Budget Blame Game on Flight Delays

FAA says sequestration furlough of 15,000 air traffic controllers is to blame; GOP senator says agency’s "financial state is not as dire" as made out to be. Related:  So the Reason for Mass Flight Delays Is … Corporate Jets

by
Bill Straub

Bio

April 24, 2013 - 3:19 pm

WASHINGTON – The consequences of across-the-board spending cuts forced on the federal government, better known as sequestration, have landed at the nation’s airports, according to the FAA, and the only thing uglier than the long lines at ticket counters and tote boards announcing further delays are the recriminations winging between Democrats and Republicans.

The furlough program instituted by the Federal Aviation Administration to deal with the budget cuts went into effect on Monday, resulting in long delays and cancelled flights across the nation as control towers operated with fewer air traffic controllers.

Since Sunday, 10 percent of the FAA workforce has been on furlough. Each employee faces up to 11 forced days off before Sept. 30 unless changes are made to the sequestration law. About 15,000 air traffic controllers are affected.

According to the FAA, more than 1,200 air system delays attributable to staffing reductions occurred on Monday, with more than 1,400 additional delays coming as a result of weather. The situation improved on Tuesday – by a bit. The agency reported more than 1,025 delays attributable to furloughs and 975 additional delays caused by other factors.

During the worst day at America’s airports in 2012, about 3,000 flights were delayed. That number could double on a daily basis under sequestration, the agency claims.

Appearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies on Wednesday, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told lawmakers that his agency had no options.

“We have to reduce our budget by $637 million between now and September 30,” he said, noting that the various grant programs were exempt under the sequester, meaning the cuts “fall disproportionately on the operating side of the budget.”

The furloughs will save the FAA about $220 million.

“To reach the large number we need to reach by Sept. 30, we have no choice but to look at furloughs,” he said. “It will have no effect on safety but what will suffer will be efficiency. When we have to reduce the number of controllers we have available to handle air traffic, what it means is that we have to do such things as combine sectors, and we need to reduce arrival rates at major airports and we need to reduce departure rates at major airports and the capacity of our major on route facilities. The results from that are ground delay programs. What we’re focused on first and foremost is to retain safety.”

The explanations did little to assuage Republicans who blame President Obama for failing to take steps to soften the blow of sequestration. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, told Huerta that the panel wasn’t informed of the consequences on air travel, asserting that “this imperial attitude is disgusting.”

Rogers rejected claims that Congress, which wrote and passed the sequester legislation signed by Obama, was to blame for the situation and said that the president should have “come to the table” to develop ways around it.

“Instead he just starts shutting down airports,” Rogers said.

Democrats said the GOP shouldn’t be surprised at the results of the legislation they supported.

“Some here in Washington, D.C., claim that the effect of such cuts will be minimal but (Transportation) Secretary (Roy) LaHood has spoken out about the real impact these cuts will have on the FAA and our aviation system,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. “He talked about how sequestration means that the FAA will furlough its air traffic controllers, close down contract towers…’’

Murray said the FAA made it clear that it wouldn’t sacrifice safety.

“Instead, the agency will reduce its services while ensuring air travel remains safe,” Murray said. “However, reductions in air traffic control services will translate directly into an increase in travel delays.”

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, sent a letter to LaHood asking him to halt the furloughs until the FAA analyzes the situation and develops alternatives.

“This is mismanagement at its worst — it’s incompetence at its worst,” Coats said. “It’s a failure to do what every agency has been required to do – plan for this. This administration needs to step up to the plate and take some accountability. The president created and signed into law the sequestration policy. His administration has known for more than 12 months that this policy was imminent. And they did nothing to prepare effectively.”

But the White House and its Democratic supporters insist the blame lies elsewhere. Jay Carney, the president’s press secretary, said Congress adopted the sequester as a means to cut spending and reduce the deficit and Republican lawmakers are now facing the consequences of their actions.

“The fact is Congress had an opportunity, but Republicans made a choice,” Carney said. “And this is a result of a choice they made to embrace the sequester as — and I’m quoting Republicans – ‘a victory for the Tea Party’ and ‘a home run.’ I’m not sure if leaders in the Republican Party and that Congress agree with those assessments now, because they’ve obviously changed their position on the sequester a variety of times over the last several months.”

Sequestration, Carney said, should never have become policy.

“The president has put forward a comprehensive, balanced approach to deficit reduction that would eliminate the sequester,” Carney said. “But this is Congress’s responsibility. It needs to take action.”

Carney said the FAA is taking the only route available to it.

“The FAA has initiated a series of cost-saving measures, both personnel and non-personnel related, including a hiring freeze, restrictions on travel, termination of certain temporary employees and reductions to contracts, among other savings,” he said. “But the fact is 70 percent of the FAA’s operations budget is personnel.  So there is simply no way to avoid furloughs.”

Some lawmakers are looking for ways around the problem. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, announced plans to use about $650 billion from the Overseas Contingency Operation fund, saved as a result of the end of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, to pay down the sequester, providing the FAA and other agencies with some breathing room.

“I think we should do something about sequestration — it’s important we do,” Reid said, adding, “we could do it for five months. During this five-month period, we could come up with something longer-term.”

Meanwhile, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) already have introduced legislation to prohibit the Department of Transportation from closing any air traffic control towers for the remainder of the fiscal year and in FY 2014 as well.

“The FAA has $50 million necessary to sustain all 149 air traffic control towers and the closing is a misguided decision causing needless harm to employees, their communities, and regional economies, as well as air travel,” Blumenthal said.

“The administration’s insistence on deliberately inconveniencing air travelers instead of prioritizing their safety falls right in line with its history of putting politics before common sense,” Sen. Moran said. “The FAA’s recent action of delaying the 149 contract control tower closures indicates what we have known all along: the agency’s financial state is not as dire as initially projected. They do have flexibility when it comes to sequestration.”

“Savings can and should be found elsewhere, and the Senate stands ready to work with them on a bipartisan basis to find a solution, but they refuse to come to the table,” Moran continued. “I am baffled by the administration’s continued insistence on putting its top-line message – that we can’t cut a dime without severe consequences – before the safety and well-being of Americans.”

Related: 

So the Reason for Mass Flight Delays Is … Corporate Jets

Washington freelancer Bill Straub is former White House correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service.

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All Comments   (23)
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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
so why with the sequestration are we cutting vital services while looking to fund new programs???????

When you are facing fiscal problems you don't go out and buy new items.

Yet our government is doing that, and then with slight of hand trying to tell us that congress and staff can't afford obozocare, and want to be exempt because this boondoggle that promised to cut costs, will cost those in power too much,

So much for having the country and its citizens as the priority

And what do we get but a lame stream media that won't report on the issue, keeping dems/libs/obozoids and low information voters spouting out the nonsense that they do.

FAA budget $12.75 Billion

Need to Cut $600 million, proposing $474 Million in new programs.

So they should stop the new spending. and cut from the consultants that are hired and the travel and supplies budget, and no controllers would have to be furloughed

But then obozo, our clown in Thief would no longer be able to harm Americans and get a political issue for his use, validating that this man is a chicago style thug politician, and not a stateman, but rather a petty small UNPATRIOTIC FAILURE that libs/dems and the media worked to inflict on this country.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What no double jet vacations to Spain on other people's money?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What a crying shame! Of all the successful and normal Patriotic Black Americans,look at the one we get stuck with![though he's not Black but Red] Herman Cain,Alan West,Condelisa Rice etc.
Alan West For President!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This is the result of Buckwheat temper tantrum, he still has tours of the white house, he still spends billions on personal vacations,


Only a colored would be so N*****R rich.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Man, like Canada privatize the ATC folks already!

Granted, Canada's air corridors have far less traffic than their U.S. neighbors.

However Canada's ATC has far more modern, safer equipment. The expectations of Canada's ATC personnel is to perform to the best, not the bare minimum of their abilities. For an aircraft incident may occur and they'd get 86'd, rightfully so otherwise.

Unlike their equivalent in the states - several public sector union ATC sleeping in the tower (D.C., Nevada, Washington state, Tennessee as of late). Whereas approaching aircraft after numerous failed attempts CAN'T hail sleeping beauty in said tower.

The aircraft pilots are then forced to 'call it themselves' and land without ATC permission. Don't worry, the FAA's answer: more tower personnel on night shifts!

Repercussions you ask? No firings obviously. These are (not 'were' as in the REAL WORLD of employment) federal employees AND public sector union scabs using dated equipment.

Well, when they'e not laying down or crouched over on their tower console that is..

As for the sequester.. B S. This is Chicago hijinks-type pressure from Barack Kardashian and other NWO-shakers and evergrowing-seekers pushing for more unneeded, underserving automatic pay raises.

Plain as day..
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Benghazi: No word on savages. Obama got a cheese pizza the evening Americans were being slaughtered. Then the next day flew to Las Vegas for a fundraising trip. Blamed the deaths on a video. Hillary said what happened didn't matter.

Boston: No enemy combatant status for cowardly killers. No questions answered.

Sequester: No White House tours. No inconvenience for any Washington travelers. No furloughs for ObamaPeople. Obama and Family spending money like water.

No more dancing around the fact, PJM. Obama isn't just the worst President in U.S. history, but he's the only one with a deep and abiding hate for the United States. He is the scum of the earth.

Six years and I'm still trying to convince you that every move Obama makes is designed to strengthen our enemies and weaken the United States. There is only so much time we can put up with this dastardly Muslim defending traitor. America, this is your final notice. Stand up to this charlatan President or else.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
obama fights dirty.Not at all a stand up guy! Guess we are, after all,what happens to us.I'm no shrink but he has issues.There is a tendency,that when someone older picks on you,you go looking for a smaller target.Air Traffic Control,Blue Angels,Tea Party,unborn babies,the enlisted man.The sucker punch president! Who flies,the evil rich fly.Distract the Air Traffic Controllers,BRILLIANT! In the least flattering use of the term.Lets see,how else can he inconvenient us more?
President Obama,Just get it over with and empty out the bank accounts of those who have more than $5,000 in there and foreclose on their houses.Give the money to your street losers, unwashed and pregnant with bastards,and convert the overlarge houses into abortion clinics! Stay tuned,and watch out for the poke in the eye!
Stay right there Mr.Carney while i locate some tar & feathers,we know how to deal with people like you up here in Boston!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hot Dang! I didn't realize our beaurocrats could manage to such razor-thin budget margins! Here I thought when I didn't get a raise for 3 years but was expected to show up and do my job that was business as usual!? But FAA gets less of an increase yet it can't do what it did in the previous year??

The FAA is taking the only route available to it? BS! How is it that Washington DC area airports are unaffected ? Oh yeah, because Obama could have given the OK for budget flexibility to more tha just the airports he needs. Except the Community Organizer thinks he is playing a game, because he knows damn well he'll never face the consequences of his policies. You effing punk...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What D.C. area airports does Obama need? members of congress routinely need them and less routine is other government workers. Oh, I forgot about all the special interest groups that routinely fly in there to get their welfare funding from the government. I say close all airports to domestic 'passenger' flights as we got along quite well without them for 135 years or so. Trains, buses and private autos will work just fine for them government kind.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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