AIN Blog: FAA and the Sequester: It’s All Smoke and Mirrors

 - June 3, 2013, 8:09 AM

Months before the FAA began its short-lived policy of furloughing air traffic controllers and making plans to close 149 low-activity ATC towers, the agency was making dire forecasts about how the plan would affect various facets of the FAA’s areas of responsibility. One high-level FAA official said that mandated cuts were expected to be a significant issue for the agency going forward. He explained that the agency had to find places where cuts could be achieved without compromising safety.

Before Congress authorized the FAA to transfer money from the Airport Improvement Program to meet controller payrolls and keep the threatened towers operating at least until the end of Fiscal Year 2013, federal officials had predicted that controller furloughs would result in as many as 6,700 flight delays each business day. Congress was having none of it.

Lawmakers were worried that imminent flight delays would throw a monkey wrench into their plans to return to their home districts for an impending vacation week that was to begin at the end of April. Both the House and the Senate quickly passed the necessary legislation.

While regular travelers seethed as flight delays mounted during the last week of April, it turned out that the FAA had husbanded money to award bonuses that were available to most FAA employees.

According to The Wall Street Journal, FAA employees began receiving their expanded paychecks in February, a scant two months before the flight delays that FAA Administrator Michael Huerta would claim were the unavoidable result of the federal budget sequester.

The newspaper said that in September last year, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood instructed the heads of the department’s operating administrations not to award bonuses and specifically not to award “organizational success increases” and “superior contribution increases.”

“The FAA plan appears to have been to inflict maximum inconvenience on passengers, hoping travelers would demand that Congress repeal the sequester and raise taxes to restore the flights,” the WSJ wrote. “The strategy backfired and President Obama had to sign a narrow fix that required the FAA to implement the same budget reductions at the agency in a more sensible fashion.”