Last week I suggested that the FAA’s claims of massive pain for travelers as a result of the sequester was political grandstanding and thoroughly unnecessary.
It wasn’t my position that cuts would be costless to them, but that they were contorting themselves to come up with the most painful way possible to account for those cuts. And that there were at least plausible alternatives.
Lots of commenters argued that I must simply not understand the sequester, that the money has to be taken proportionally from each program / project / activity. I pointed out that these things are not at all defined in the statute, and it was still up to the Administration then to choose what that would mean for implementation.
Even so it still seemed extremely odd that the FAA could come up with such draconian cuts that they’d be predicting significant travel delays off a 5% budget cut relative to baseline (increases).
And yet – I feared – that coming up with the worst possible cuts and consequences for the sequester as a scare tactic would box the FAA into actually carrying out those plans instead of less harmful ones, assuming that the sequester comes to pass.
Transportation researcher Robert Poole, who writes the Air Traffic Control Newsletter, agrees with me.
The Administration’s marching orders to all government agencies covered by the sequester law (including FAA’s parent, the Department of Transportation) seem designed to inflict maximum pain on the traveling public, in hopes of mobilizing aviation stakeholders, the media, and the traveling public to demand that Congress change the law. I have tried to figure out how a mandated cut of $600 million—under 5%– in the FAA’s $12.75 billion budget (excluding the exempted airport grants program) could possibly require all-hands furloughs reducing 47,000 daily personnel by 10% and the shut-down of 100 low-activity (mostly contract) towers and ending midnight shifts at 60 or more low-activity towers (which should have been done in any case). This appears to be a classic example of the “Washington Monument” strategy of trying to prevent budget cuts by proposing the worst possible method of coping—rather than finding 5% of the budget that could be eliminated or deferred with the least harm.
He goes on to argue for de-politicizing funding of air traffic control, the way that Australia, Canada, Germany, and scores of other countries have done and the way that the Clinton Administration had proposed doing in 1994.
This never seemed much of a priority to me, but I gain sympathy for the view given the recklessness with which the traveling public is being held hostage by sequester politics.