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ARTICLE: Bill Shuster appears ready in possible chairman shuffle

Source: PoliticoJohn Mica (Chair of the HR Transportation & Infrastructure)

 Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) 

To analogize with the corporate model, if the FAA is a business, the Chair of the HR Transportation & Infrastructure is Head of the agency’s Board. In explicit and subtle ways, the agenda of this House Committee is impacted by the style and substance of the person who leads this legislative organization. Cleary, the hearings and the resulting authorization bills set the strategy and powers of the FAA. Even calls from the Member or her/his staff can affect personnel decisions or the priorities of the Administrator. Parenthetically, the same observations are theoretically true as applied to the HR Appropriations, Senate Commerce and Senate Appropriations Chairs, but historically, there has been less visible “direction” from these potential powers.

Chairman Mica has exercised his chairmanship during a most partisan era; the Reauthorization Bills have been his annual challenge. Every year, Chairman Mica introduced this critical legislation and in the last few days of every session, a “band aid” extension was passed. What suffered in this stalemate is the long term strategic financing of NextGen. The initial debate was a “user fee”, which general and business aviation have opposed and successfully blocked. The White House has adopted this source of funding, but Mr. Mica has not. What we have not seen much during his leadership are hearings taking political pot-shots at the FAA Administrator over “safety” issues.

Politico, in the linked article, has suggested that the term limit rules may result in a transfer from the Florida Republican to the son of the former legendary Chair Bud Shuster, Rep. Bill Shuster. [The article notes that Mr. Mica may seek a waiver, but in spite of that possibility, the political journal devoted 3 pages of review of Mr. Shuster.] Research of the Pennsylvania Republican’s legislative record suggests that he may be a different leader.

In his 11 years in the Congress, he has attained the Chair of T&I’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials. In that position, he set the agenda for the hearings and legislation for those three industries. Last year, the Chair introduced two major bills; one passed and the second is pending and both are instructive about his legislative substance and abilities.

H.R. 2845: Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 was introduced on September 11, 2011 and was signed by President Obama on January 3, 2012. In this era of legislative gridlock, this was quite an accomplishment. Adding to the accomplishment, the Bill was supported by the Chair of a committee with concurrent jurisdiction (HR Energy and Commerce), by Democrats and by industry. The WOW factor increases when it is noted that the Bill included limitations on liability, state/federal jurisdiction, Indian reservations, MBE/WBE/DBE preferences and very complex industry rules. This suggests that Mr. Shuster may be able to return the bipartisanship to the T&I committee, which had been a hallmark of this group for 30 years.

The second bit of legislation is titled H.R. 1390: Bus Uniform Standards and Enhanced Safety Act of 2011. It is a comprehensive effort to reform bus safety. It was originally introduced in 2009 and has bipartisan support. Relevant to aviation’s NextGen implementation issues, the Bus Bill includes tax credits and grants for bus companies’ expenditures for introducing safety equipment. Minimum training standards for drivers, testing of and a national registry for medical examiners, and increased monitoring of the bus safety records—all are themes familiar to aviation. What is evident in the Shuster Bill and a distinction from recent aviation legislation is the definition of broad standards, leaving the refining of the criteria to the Administrator. This is in stark contrast to the Aviation Subcommittee’s prescribing a minimum number of pilot hours.

It is too early to make definitive conclusions and maybe even premature to assume a new leader, but the prospect of another Shuster is positive. The FAA would do well to have a flow of well designed legislation, positive contributions to implementing NextGen and a Chairman of its Board who understands the complexity of its charter.

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