The Federal Aviation Administration
A worked example of the effects of congressional stupidity
Aug 6th 2011 | NEW YORK | from the print edition
LaGuardia’s old tower, now partly down
AFTER he had signed the debt-ceiling deal, Barack Obama mentioned “another Washington-inflicted wound on America”. He was speaking about the impasse over funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which manages air safety and air-traffic control. Congressmen could not resolve a petty disagreement over the extension of the agency’s operating-authority bill, which expired on July 22nd. As a result, the agency has partly shut down, and 4,000 employees have been sent home. Air-traffic controllers are still on the job, as they are paid from a different source. But scores of FAA construction and research projects have been halted, affecting at least 70,000 workers. “Members of Congress should not get on a plane to fly home for vacation without passing an FAA bill and putting thousands of people back to work,” said Ray LaHood, the transport secretary. His words were drowned in the rush for the doors.
The FAA’s long-term funding bill expired in 2007. Since then Congress has passed, with little fuss, 20 stopgap bills, each lasting a few months. This time round, politicians could not agree on seemingly minor provisions. House Republicans passed a bill that cut $16.5m in federal subsidies for passengers at a dozen remote rural airports, something the Senate Democrats oppose. They also oppose a measure that would make it more difficult for airline workers to unionise. Because of this impasse over $16.5m a year, the government is losing $30m a day in uncollected federal taxes on airline tickets.