Congressional Observer: November 2003

 - March 20, 2008, 4:55 AM

Back in the 1700s the poet Robert Burns wrote, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men gang aft agley an’ lea’ us naught but grief an’ pain for promis’d joy!” The 108th Congress “scheme” (plan) to have appropriations bills for the 13 government agencies wrapped up and signed off by October 1, the start of the new fiscal year, went “gang aft agley” (went awry), for only three of the 13 bills made it through the process.

Continuing resolutions will be in order to keep the agencies going on last year’s funding, but “grief and pain” could be in store for taxpayers should Congress resort to another omnibus bill that would lump all appropriations bills into one. The “promis’d joy” would be derived by legislators who characteristically lard an omnibus bill with earmarked amendments that have the look, smell and taste of pork.

• H.R.2115, the bill that reauthorizes the FAA for the next fiscal year, emerged from a conference committee and seemingly resolved differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill. Various legislators, however, stalled passage in disagreement with several provisions of the bill, and this required a Senate/House Continuing Resolution that allowed the FAA to continue essential programs and daily operations at fiscal 2003 funding levels until the end of last month.

High among the haggling points was the privatization of ATC towers. During her five-year term, former FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, a Democrat, allowed for some 100 small-airport towers to be contracted to private operators. Even though the current FAA Administrator, Marion Blakey, a Republican, stated that the FAA has no intention of putting any more control towers in the hands of private contractors, current and proposed legislation would allow the FAA to pursue that course.

Meanwhile, The National Air Traffic Controllers Association started a $6 million advertising campaign to accuse the Bush Administration of selling aviation safety to the lowest bidder. So Blakey offered a compromise that would drop Section 230, which would ban all ATC privatization except 69 Level 1 ATC towers that could qualify for the contract-tower program. Blakey also pointed out that if the reauthorization bill is not passed it might be necessary to lay off a number of FAA employees because the law prevents spending money from the aviation trust fund.

Several rural legislators have taken exception to a provision establishing a cost-sharing program that would require a handful of small airports to help pay for the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, which was created in 1978 to preserve rural air service after deregulation.

NBAA has urged its membership to contact their elected representatives in Washington and pointed out that the resolution did not contain any of the new provisions related to general aviation, such as the $100 million in relief for general aviation entities that were affected by 9/11; the GA access provisions for Washington National Airport; and increased funding for general aviation airports.

While all of this was going on, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), introduced S.1618, the “Temporary Federal Aviation Administration Act of 2003,” which would reauthorize the FAA until March 31, 2004. This bill, which Rockefeller termed “a noncontroversial short-term extension,” would prohibit the privatization of ATC.
Congress declared a break until October 14, and industry observers were hopeful that the full reauthorization would be passed before the October 31 deadline.

• H.R.2144, “The Aviation Security Technical Corrections Act of 2003,” introduced on May 19, would, in view of the fact that there is only one federally owned training site, allow non-federal facilities to provide federal flight deck officer (FFDO) certification, but that bill has not moved out of committee. Consequently, a number of the bill’s provisions were included in the FAA reauthorization conference report, among which was giving cargo pilots the right to undergo FFDO training and the procedures for training crewmembers to cope with terrorist attacks. What was omitted was the provision to increase the number of FFDO sites. Net result: pilots might have a long wait for training.

• President Bush received a $29.4 billion spending bill from Congress that would fund the Homeland Security Department for next year. Included was $5.2 billion for the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Air Marshal program. The original House bill banned passenger aircraft from carrying cargo that was not inspected, but a compromise worked out with the Senate would provide $85 million for the research, development and procurement of technology that would be able to screen cargo.

• S.1657, introduced by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), would amend Section 44921 of Title 49, U.S. Code, to provide for the arming of cargo pilots.

• H.R.3245, introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), would promote the development of the space commercial transportation industry to authorize appropriations for the office of the Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation and to authorize appropriations for the Office of Space Commerce.

• House Conference Resolution 275 expresses the sense of Congress that all airport screening functions should continue to be performed by federal employees and that all employees of the TSA, including federal airport screeners, should be permitted to engage in labor negotiations and be represented in labor negotiations by a representative or organization of their choosing.