Ranking Member DeFazio’s Amendment To Reform ATC Within Current Structure Rejected

On February 11, 2016 the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee (T&I) marked up chairman Bill Shuster’s (R-PA) proposed legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) (H.R. 4441- The Aviation Innovation, Reform, & Reauthorization Act, AIRR). The central feature of this legislation is a proposal to spin-off air traffic control (ATC) governance from its current home in the FAA into a non-profit corporation.

The first round of votes included an amendment offered by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) to replace the air traffic control corporatization provisions in H.R. 4441 and replace them with language taking the Airport and Airway Trust Fund off-budget and directing certain procurement and personnel reforms within the existing FAA structure. While it is possible that this amendment may resurface later in the legislative process, during the markup it was rejected 25-34.

In an effort to bring stability to ATC funding, the amendment seeks to take the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF) off budget through not subjecting the trust fund to 1) the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, 2) the need for appropriation, or 3) legal requirements from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The amendment also notes that if there is need for further funding that this will be authorized from the general fund of the Treasury as necessary to meet the needs of the FAA operations account.

While the DeFazio amendment would remove some of the budget pressures that currently restrict FAA spending, it would not give the FAA the power to control its own revenue levels and would continue to keep a large portion of air traffic control operations dependent on annual appropriations from the general fund that are subject to sequestration and other budget pressures.

The amendment authorizes through AATF contract authority funding to support the Essential Air Service (EAS) program in FY2016- FY2019. Further, the amendment directs the FAA Administrator to reform the rules governing procurement and acquisition of services and goods. The Administrator is directed to report to T&I within 12 months of procurement revision the status of this revised process.

DeFazio’s amendment also seeks to address concerns with personnel rules through directing the FAA Administrator to revise the personnel management system. The Administrator is directed to specifically include performance incentive policies and to take “expedited personnel actions with respect to employees not covered by valid collective bargaining agreements.”

The amendment directs the Administrator to work with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) to define “appropriate total combined controller staffing levels for all air traffic control facilities of the Administration and certified professional controller staffing levels for each air traffic control facility Administration.”

Finally, the amendment directs the FAA Administrator to reform internal policies and procedures to promote a culture of communication and collaboration across the Administration.

The ATC provisions of chairman Shuster and ranking member DeFazio’s failed proposal to amend Shuster’s proposal are of particular interest to Eno. Through our NextGen Working Group, for the last two-and-a-half years we have explored approaches to reforming ATC governance. Last year, the Working Group announced principles on air traffic control (ATC) reform and then issued a final report. The Working Group explored a number of approaches to reforming ATC governance, and ultimately built consensus around a set of principles that are at odds with the provisions within the ranking member’s amendment.

Ultimately, the working group’s principles stated that the way in which ATC operations are funded “should be removed from the federal budget process and should not be dependent on annual appropriations” and that the current excise tax and general revenue support system for ATC “should be replaced, to the extent possible, with direct payments to the air traffic control provider.”

Another principle that the working group agreed upon was that the air traffic control provider should have the ability to borrow from capital markets, another key principle of the working group. The group also agreed that reforms to the FAA should bring the United States in line with the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) principle that the ATC operator and regulator should be “at an arms distance.”

FAA reauthorization will likely take many more weeks and compromises will need to be made on both sides of the aisle. As Congress works towards building consensus its important to consider all the of the research that has been conducted to help ensure that the U.S. continues to have the safest and most robust airspace in the world.

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