The television program Schoolhouse Rock! created a clever educational song “I’m Just a Bill” in 1976. For those aviation professionals who are not schooled in the intricacies of legislative process should refer back to the catchy, truly informative lyrics to prepare for the next few months of Congressional action.
Rep. Bill Shuster, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has announced that his long (18 months) quest for a transformational FAA Reauthorization Bill “will announce a plan Monday [today] to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system, removing the government’s role in managing the world’s most crowded, complex air space.” The definition of the future management, governance and funding of the Air Traffic Organization has been the subject of debate for over 30 years. The details of the Shuster proposal will likely determine whether his bill will be enacted.
These are a few of the key elements:
- How will the privatized ATO be governed?
- How will each segment (airlines, GA, BA, airline unions, government unions, airports, consumers, Congressional representative(s), Executive Branch representative(s), etc.),
- Will Congress retain oversight of some/all/no decisions?
- Will its structure be
- a federal corporation,
- a federally charter
- a not-for-profit corporation
- What will be its revenue source; options like:
- A defined percentage of general revenue dollars- and/or
- User fees
- How/who will set those numbers- and/or
- Taxes on
- Passenger tickets
- Cargo waybill fees
- Aviation fuels-and/or
- Other more creative revenue flows?
- Whether the Congress will be able to review/revise any of these sources of revenues?
- What protections will the existing unions receive in any transition to privatization?
- Will the privatization be confined to ATO or is the argument that an integrated FAA is required has merit?
- A myriad of other complex, interconnected issues.
That’s a brief review of the substantive challenges, but the procedural lessons of “I’m Just a Bill” may be the most telling given the short time between now and the FAA’s authorization deadline of September 30, 2015. An excerpted version of Schoolhouse Rock will be instructive:
- Yes, I’m only a bill
And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill
Well, it’s a long, long journey
To the capital city
It’s a long, long wait
While I’m sitting in committee
- And I got as far as Capitol Hill
Well, now I’m stuck in committee
And I’ll sit here and wait
While a few key Congressmen discuss and debate
Whether they should let me be a law
- Bill: Yeah, I’m one of the lucky ones. Most bills never even get this far. I hope they decide to report on me favorably, otherwise I may die.
Bill: Yeah, die in committee. Oh, but it looks like I’m going to live! Now I go to the House of Representatives, and they vote on me.
Boy: If they vote yes, what happens?
Bill: Then I go to the Senate and the whole thing starts all over again.
- And if they vote for me on Capitol Hill
Well, then I’m off to the White House
Where I’ll wait in a line
With a lot of other bills
For the president to sign
And if he signs me, then I’ll be a law
- Boy: You mean even if the whole Congress says you should be a law, the president can still say no?
Bill: Yes, that’s called a veto. If the President vetoes me, I have to go back to Congress and they vote on me again, and by that time you’re so old . . .
Boy: By that time it’s very unlikely that you’ll become a law. It’s not easy to become a law, is it?
That’s a daunting set of steps which Reauthorization will face. It is likely that each of the stakeholders will devise strategies to advance their critical provisions. The most common, easiest-to-implement tactic is delay (as well versed in the above song) and that leverage is magnified by the short deadline.
Congress moves best when the industry impacted by legislation comes to Capitol Hill with a unified position. Recent reports suggest that there is little consensus of any aspect of the Privatization.
Perhaps the wisdom of the lyrics should be the mantra of the stakeholders, Members of Congress and interested parties:
Gee, Bill, you certainly have a lot of patience and courage