Senator John Thune
The unnecessary flight delays experienced across the country due to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) decision to furlough 47,000 employees, including 15,500 air traffic controllers, were avoidable. The administration has blamed these delays on the Budget Control Act (BCA), which passed in August of 2011 as a last-resort measure to avert a fiscal crisis. Because an agreement couldn’t be reached to reduce overall federal spending, the BCA included across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, that were triggered in March of this year. While administration officials will continue to claim that their hands were tied and that furloughs for all FAA employees were unavoidable, the truth is that the administration failed to adequately plan for these cuts or use existing flexibility to make cuts to lower-priority programs to lessen the impact on air travelers. The legislation that I was pleased to help pass protects air travelers from the frustrations related to the FAA’s poor planning.
For months now, I have been attempting to get the White House to comply with, and provide key details about the sequester’s impacts after the president signed into law my Sequestration Transparency Act. This bill required the administration to provide a detailed plan to Congress and the American people on the impacts of the sequester by September of 2012, over seven months ago. After ignoring the law and failing to plan for the sequester’s impact, the administration has been playing politics with the sequester cuts—effectively choosing to make cuts that are most visible to the public, and then blaming Congressional Republicans for the negative impacts, despite the fact that Congressional Republicans voted to provide the administration with increased flexibility in implementing the sequester before it took effect.
Instead, the administration has resisted all attempts to utilize flexibility and share information with Congress. In fact, FAA staff briefed congressional staff just 72 hours before implementing the air traffic controller furloughs. Over the past few months, as Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, I have been partnering with Chairman John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), and Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), to acquire key details from the administration on their plans to implement the sequester cuts at the FAA.
Thankfully, after weeks of hard work, on April 25, 2013, just five days after the furloughs were implemented, I, along with Senators Rockefeller, Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) negotiated and passed legislation in the Senate to provide the FAA the authority to utilize unspent funds and additional flexibility to transfer other funding within the FAA budget to prevent reduced operations and staffing during fiscal year 2013. More importantly, the legislation provides flexibility to resolve the FAA’s problems within the spending caps required under the Budget Control Act of 2011 without raising taxes or increasing deficit spending.While I would have preferred the Secretary of Transportation and the FAA Administrator had planned and better managed resources to avoid unnecessary flight delays that the American public experienced, our bipartisan legislation returns air traffic controllers to the towers, which best serves air travelers, aviation safety, and the economy.