Is the FAA a “shill” for corporations or is Rep. Lieu’s juicy quote designed to get aired on the Evening News programs back home?

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The FAA a shill for corporations?

Or is the Administrator doing what Congress told him to do?

The Democratic Congressman from Los Angeles County is clearly a very bright lawyer. Rep. Ted Lieu attended Stanford for his undergraduate degrees in Computer Science and Political Science, and then Georgetown University, where he received his law degree magna cum laude after serving as Editor-in-Chief of the law review. He also received four American Jurisprudence Awards. His letter sent to the FAA Administrator belies the kind of care and precision which derives from such an impressive education.

Given that background, his invective language is addressed to an appointment of President Obama, with whom the Representative tends to vote. The letter contains words that seem to insinuate that Administrator Huerta and more relevantly Eduardo Angeles, the FAA Associate Administrator for Airports (Mr. Angeles previously was the senior assistant city attorney in Los Angeles, and prior to that as general counsel to Los Angeles World Airports) are bidding for private concerans. Here are the precise words:

“The FAA’s mission is not to be a shill for corporations. I call on the FAA to live up to its mission by rescinding its overreaching order and, instead, work with the city of Santa Monica.”

Though Rep. Lieu served in the US Air Force JAG, he may not have much direct experience with civil aviation and/or the statutes which Congress enacted to define what the FAA may and should do. The FAA is empowered to issue grants for airports and do so in a way which assures that the American public has access to the aviation infrastructure funded by these AIP grants.

faa shill corporationsIt may be useful to use an analogy to explain the Santa Monica Airport; with the allegations and innuendos associated with that case, reciting the “facts” of that matter may be counterproductive to add to understanding. Aviation obviously has negative connotations among the Congressman’s constituents; so trying to wend our way through the contented facts may add more heat than light to the discussion.

Here is a series of facts which will hopefully create some instructive parallels; ASSUME:

  • Some 50 years ago, the US government at the end of a war built and operated a treatment facility for veterans in the City of Saint Michel.
  • The Veterans Administration offered to the City of SM the assumption of that hospital to be run as a care facility by SM. The municipal organization gladly accepted the offer—it would keep jobs in the City!
  • SM received further grants of VA money and for much of the history the local residents were pleased. The hospital provided jobs to the residents of SM, brought Doctors and other professional to the community and generally added to the local economy.
  • After a while, the community surrounding the hospital began to complain about some of the patients of the medical facility; some of the long term residents would walk around the neighborhoods and cause problems.
  • At the same time, SM’s costs of municipal services escalated while the city’s tax base remained stagnant and for periods even declined. The SM budget experienced pressure—increasing expenses and diminishing revenues.
  • The city planning process determined that the land on which the SM operated facility could be redeveloped as a tax-paying condominium and thus increasing the SM revenues to pay for fire, police, education, etc.
  • The SM leaders assumed that the residents could be moved elsewhere.
  • The VA objected citing both the conditions of past grants precluding closure and the need for this facility in a national network of similar facilities.
  • SM, the VA and the Congresspersons from SM met to try to resolve differences.
  • The VA initiated its existing procedures that adjudicate efforts to close such hospitals; several courts concurred with the VA’s insistence that its procedures and standards need be complied with. The process, most litigious by both sides and 3rd parties (Veteran groups), was slow. The VA ordered SM to keep the hospital open. The local US Representative sent a letter expressing his dismay to the VA.
  • faaFrustrated by the “delays”, SM sought various tactics to close what many citizens considered to be a nuisance.
  • Since SM operated this health care facility, it was decided by the City Council to reduce the wages paid to the staff; it reasoned if we must keep it open, we will diminish our expenses. Not surprisingly, the most skilled professionals left to pursue other jobs. The lower wages and knowledge that the employer intended to soon thereafter close the hospital made it virtually impossible to hire qualified staff. The result was diminished safety of the patients with the possibility that some would suffer.
  • The VA ordered SM not to reduce staffing, even though SM’s clever counsel pointed to VA guidance that suggested that the operator had he final decision on staffing.
  • The VFW, VVA and others objected. The VA agreed with them.

Is the VA a shill? Or is the Administrator doing what Congress told him to do, to preserve critical VA infrastructure in which US tax dollars have been invested?

It is hardly a perfect analogy and the vicissitudes of the process have not been perfectly reflected in the allegory, but by changing the names of the participants and deleting “aviation” (even worse “corporate fat cats”), the equity of the federal government investing in infrastructure critical to the national economy may be a bit more apparent.


California Congressman: FAA a ‘Shill for Corporations’
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