Congress’ Decisions as to Staffing and Rule Deadlines are the Real Definers of Priorities

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ARTICLE: FAA Sends Part 135 Fatigue Rules to Back Burner

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The article’s headline is a little misleading; the FAA did not put the Part 135 flight and duty time rulemaking “on the back burner.” John Duncan, the FAA Deputy Director of Flight Standards Service, did not say that their review and drafting of this proposal was moved down the priorities list by anyone within the agency.

First, he made it clear that Congress’ normal budgetary process has prescribed its “capacity to undertake about 40 rulemaking projects at one time.” He added that the axe of sequestration may make it worse. Those are legislative – not administrative – decisions.

Second, having constrained staffing, the same legislators have created their own added demands on the agency’s regulatory in-box. Several statutes not only mandated that the FAA issue specific rulemakings, but also assigned a specific deadline. Those legislative mandates defined the pecking order of what gets done when.

The good news is that Mr. Duncan acknowledged that the “ARC has done a lot of work on that” [referring to flight and duty time]. The new pilot fatigue rules for the Part 121 carriers represent a lot of ARC work and the final rules reflect much of the science developed there. Even still, the finally promulgated regulations were controversial, particularly as to the non-application to cargo flights.

If Congress wants more work product from the FAA, it would be helpful to have a careful review of the rule writers’ staffing and of their agenda. Their oversight might conclude that the people at 800 Independence Avenue need more resources and/or that the agency would be better served by fewer directives from the Hill.

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