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ARTICLE: NextGen Air System Jeopardized by Lawmaker Interference


Unfortunately, the view from Capitol Hill to 800 Independence Avenue is downhill a short 8 blocks. Looking down from their offices gives 535 high-ranking officials amazing insights into the workings of the FAA. Add to that perch, the fact that all but a few of the Senators and Congresspersons fly home every weekend; those experiences assure that they have expertise about the agency which operates and regulates that system.

Equally inopportune is the distance from a hometown TV camera to a Senator’s or Congressperson’s press conference. The distance is even shorter when the FAA is on the invitation; give notice that the Member is going to make a statement on aviation safety and the event WILL be covered.

Add that any government employee, particularly one who may be disgruntled, is protected by the First Amendment. Consequentially, any grievance, no matter how petty or even if the claim is antithetical to the political philosophy of the member, will likely result in some action by the elected official. It is often overlooked (ignored?) that even an innocent inquiry from a Member hits the desk of the average FAA manager or executive like a thunderclap, compelling immediate positive reaction.

These perspectives, somewhat facetiously articulated, mean that there is a very high likelihood that Congress will exercise all of its oversight authority as to the FAA. It is fair to admit that the FAA has assumed the largest civil infrastructure project a/k/a NextGen and that there have been more than a few surprises in terms of costs and delays.

All that said, the attached article points out the foibles of the “help” which the FAA gets from Congress. In a time when the nation faces a fiscal cliff and all politicians are identifying federal governmental costs which should be forcibly cut from agencies’ budgets, it’s ironic that Congress is blocking some of the cuts proposed by the FAA.

David Grizzle wants to make the FAA’s ATC more efficient, as measured by rational standards, and his proposed reductions are made possible by the new technologies. NextGen creates new roles in the ATC system, reduces the need for multiple facilities and otherwise produces more with less. The Congressional “help” mentioned in the Business Week piece, is hindering that progress.

The Congressional duty to provide constituent services is important if one wants to be reelected; however, in these critical times, the Members must consider broader considerations when deciding how to manage NextGen. There are strong reasons to reconfigure the ATC facilities, for example. While those actions may hurt a number of local residents/voters/controllers in the short run, the national interest to reduce the cost of the new AT system and to improve the safety of the national airspace should be paramount.

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