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Congressman Tom Cole

Representing the 4th District of Oklahoma

Flight Delays Show Obama Values Politics over Real Spending Cuts

April 29, 2013
Weekly Columns

Time is a precious commodity. Last week, you might have been one of many airline travelers who lost unnecessary time due to flight delays and cancellations resulting from staffing reductions within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Claiming compliance with required cuts due to sequestration, FAA actions that upset travelers and hardworking personnel should ultimately be recognized as an attempt by the Obama Administration to make a dramatic political statement.  
The coming of sequestration is not a surprise to anyone, including the FAA. These across-the-board spending cuts have been a possible reality since November 2011. At that time, the House, Senate and President Obama agreed to legislation that would cut 5 percent across all levels of federal spending by March 2013 unless another plan for cuts (equal to the same percentage) replaced them. These “sequester” cuts were never meant to be the solution for our spending problems. Instead, sequestration was meant to serve as motivation for lawmakers to work together, weigh and discuss wasteful spending and protect and preserve valuable funding for our nation.
Even though all federal departments, agencies and lawmakers have had a year and a half to anticipate, plan for or replace sequestration, supposed implementation of cuts reveals an Obama Administration intent on playing politics instead of cutting actual waste. Evidence of a president more interested in politics than true American priorities was evident on April 17, when the FAA announced its plan to furlough air traffic controllers and all other employees in order to comply with sequestration. The announcement of furloughs was made just four days before they were scheduled to begin, and no other spending cut plans (outside of cuts to personnel only) were even proposed.
Currently, about a third of FAA employees serve as air traffic controllers, and these individuals directly impact the success, efficiency and safety of our aviation system nationwide. However, under last week’s furloughs, everyone employed by the FAA, regardless of job position or location, would be cut back at the same rate. That means highly trafficked airports in cities like Chicago or Dallas would be affected just as much as smaller airports with fewer operations per day—an unbalanced solution.
Despite claims that furloughs were unavoidable, closer inspection of the FAA’s budget reveals options for cuts to non-personnel operations. Out of a total budget of $9.7 billion, $2.7 billion (nearly 28 percent) are spent on operations that include contracts, travel, supplies and consultants. In a business operation, these are the reductions that would be considered first, protecting the livelihood of hardworking employees. In addition, even though domestic travel has decreased 27 percent since 2000, the FAA budget has grown by 109 percent ($9.7 billion) since 1996.

The question is: Why is the FAA in need of greater funding today than when demand was much higher? It doesn't sound like a personnel problem; it looks like a management problem with furloughs being a convenient way for the President to get attention.
By Thursday night of last week, even the Democrat-controlled Senate showed disapproval of the FAA furloughs, swiftly passing a bill permitting the FAA to transfer $253 million from the Airport Improvement Program in FY 2013 to air traffic controller salaries and expenses. This legislation, supported and passed through the House on Friday, protects air traffic controllers’ salaries through the end of the fiscal year.
Instituting cuts designed to annoy travelers and jeopardize the safety and efficiency of the aviation system is both unnecessary and avoidable. Disruption for the sake of a political statement rather than necessity is not the answer.