Are FAA Sequester Cuts as “Dumb” as They Look?

Sequestration budget cuts are a “dumb idea,” which “will not work,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  Sure, the sequester was not the best way to cut federal spending; however, in light of our nation’s $16.6 trillion debt, spending definitely needs to be cut.  And to be clear, there are areas in which this can be done.  Sadly, most of the people running the federal government can’t seem to understand that.

Take the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), for example.

The FAA requested $15.172 billion for FY2013, but the Continuing Resolution – passed last fall – locked in funding levels of $16.668 billion.  The FAA’s sequester hit will be just $669 million, which means their post-sequester funding level of $15.999 billion will still be above their original request.

You read that right!  The FAA is getting more than they need – more than they asked for – even after sequester cuts.

Nonetheless, the Washington Post reports that “the administration has portrayed a grim picture of long lines at airports and closed airport towers if the required reductions at the Federal Aviation Administration are allowed to proceed.”  To be sure, the President has used FAA sequester cuts to beef up his dramatic sequester act.

But even Spencer Dickerson of the American Association of Airport Executives said, “There’s a lot of dramatics going on.”

Here’s the FAA’s argument and that of others who oppose the sequester budget cuts.

The FAA uses 71 percent of its operations budget to pay salaries for controllers, supervisors, air safety inspectors and technicians, and therefore, when it is asked to make a 5 percent budget “reduction” in seven months, a large chunk of that has to come from personnel.   This will in turn affect travelers.

But think about this: the FAA’s expenses have climbed significantly in the past several years due to union contracts and congressional pressure to bolster the ranks of aviation safety inspectors.  In fact, the FAA budget has grown even as air travel has fallen.

And this taxpayer money is not being spent efficiently.

There are the roughly 112 airports subsidized by the Essential Air Service (EAS).  The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service program was put in place to guarantee – with taxpayer dollars – that small communities that were served by certificated air carriers maintain a minimal level of scheduled air service.

Of the 124 EAS funded airports (excluding Alaska), only 19 made it onto the list of 233 airports in which air traffic control facilities may be close.  So rather than closing – or threatening to close – those air traffic control facilities that receive hundreds of millions of dollars a year in taxpayer-funded subsidies through the EAS program, President Obama would prefer to inconvenience travelers and close airports that are in greater demand by travelers.

Rather than continuing to breed government dependence among the airline industry, the Heritage Foundation has proposed the following suggestions:

[A]ll non-safety functions of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are transferred to the private sector, and most FAA fees are eliminated. The air traffic control system will be transferred to the private sector, where it belongs, and financed by flight ticket user fees. The airport improvement program is also terminated, with airlines, state government, and private investment taking the place of the federal taxpayer.

If lawmakers had taken these reforms seriously when they were proposed in 2011, today’s debate would be different.  If they believed in free market principles and legislated accordingly, our national debt would be different as well.

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