Good news, fellow travelers – yesterday, the Senate moved at record speed to pass a bill to reduce air traffic delays resulting from sequestration budget cuts. Less than a week ago, Transportation Department Secretary Ray LaHood announced the proposed 5 percent budget cut would result in the furloughing of thousands of air traffic controllers.
The Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013, S.853, was passed just days after the Federal Aviation Administration moved forward with the cuts, putting numerous air traffic controllers on unpaid leave, causing widespread flight delays, cancelations and many unhappy customers.
The bill, which passed the Senate with unanimous consent, will provide the transportation secretary with the budgetary authority to transfer specific funds to prevent reduced FAA operations and staffing as well as for other related needs.
Funds accessed through this bill are only approved for fiscal year 2013 and are not to exceed $253,000,000. The money will be derived from discretionary grants-in-aid or from any other program or account FAA already possesses.
Though Congress may be to blame for sequestration as a whole, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) says FAA has dealt with its 5 percent budget cut negligently. Shuster said FAA’s budget has increased 100 percent over the last 15 years, and a budget reduction of 5 percent should not affect U.S. transportation the way it has.
“We know that the FAA has the flexibility to reduce costs elsewhere, such as contracts, travel, supplies and consultants or to apply furloughs in a manner that better protects the most critical air traffic control facilities,” Shuster said. Rather than take this approach, the administration has made choices “that appear designed to have the greatest possible impact on the traveling public,” he said.
Government agencies have known about the potential impacts of sequestration for more than a year, yet FAA chose to notify Congress and the airline industry less than a week before it put thousands of air-traffic controllers on unpaid leave.
Shuster went on to accuse FAA of viewing the sequester as “an attempt to score political points rather than address real issues and find real savings in a bloated federal bureaucracy.”
The bill must now additionally pass through the House before it proceeds to the president for the final go-ahead.