FAA faces partial shutdown after Congress fails to approve funding
In Print: Saturday, July 23, 2011
WASHINGTON — Efforts to avert a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration failed Friday amid partisan acrimony, ensuring that at midnight nearly 4,000 people would be temporarily out of work and federal airline ticket taxes would be suspended.
Those workers and tens of thousands of airport construction workers under FAA contract faced immediate furlough. The nation’s air travel system will not be affected, with air traffic controllers remaining on the job and airline operations continuing.
Lawmakers were unable to resolve a dispute over an extension of the agency’s operating authority, which expired at midnight Friday.
House Republicans sought to cut $16.5 million in subsidies for air service to 13 rural communities. The subsidy cut was included by Republicans in a bill extending operating authority for the FAA, which has a $16 billion budget. Senate Democrats refused to accept the House bill with the cuts, and Republican senators refused to accept a Democratic bill without it. Lawmakers then adjourned for the weekend.
But underlying the dispute on rural air service subsidies was a standoff between the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate over a provision in long-term funding legislation for the FAA that would make it more difficult for airline and railroad workers to unionize.
The labor provision in the House bill would overturn a National Mediation Board rule approved last year that allows airline and railroad employees to form a union by a simple majority of those voting. Under the old rule, workers who didn’t vote were treated as “no” votes.
Airlines will lose the authority to collect about $200 million a week in ticket taxes that go into a trust fund that pays for FAA programs. FAA employees whose jobs are paid for with trust fund money will be furloughed, including nearly 1,000 workers at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, 647 workers at FAA’s technology and research center in Atlantic City, N.J., and 124 workers at the agency’s training center in Oklahoma City.
“I’m very disappointed that Congress adjourned today without passing a clean extension of the FAA bill,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Friday. “Because of their inaction, states and airports won’t be able to work on their construction projects, and too many people will have to go without a paycheck. This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world.”