Congress’ Interest in FAA Construction Plan–maybe a good idea, definitely an ill-designed penalty!

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Congress is clearly frustrated with the FAA on a number of fronts. Based on reports of both the DoT OIG and the GAO, there may be some validity to the criticism that the capital spending plans do not provide the level of detail which is needed for Congressional oversight. As noted in the below USAToday article, there is a proposal to “punish” the FAA if a specific spending plan is not delivered by a deadline. Some leverage may be needed to compel the agency to respond; the penalty chosen is absurd.

The FAA published a 2013-2017 National Airspace Capital Investment Plan, which is 375 pages long. It does provide some specific information, e.g. $26 million for runway lights and $9 million for global-positioning projects. In the opinion of the auditors most of the plan is in generalities and does not cite the precise budget dollars for individual projects.

The lack of an integrated national plan for capital spending allows each facility to set its own priorities. The GAO believes that projects should be measured against system wide goals, like facilities badly in need of repair and/or NextGen time critical elements. Care in spending is harmed by the lack of priorities, according to the critics.

That is a credible rationale supporting Congress’ need for such a national capital plan. The FAA may have a counter argument, but they opted not to respond to the article’s author.

What implement does the Congress propose to use to get the FAA to submit the report?

If the FAA does not provide 2016-2020 construction plan with specific dollars for each budget line item, then the Congress will sanction the agency as follows:

“… the agency will lose $100,000 of its funding for each day the report is late, according to page 1418 of the bill.”

However valid the Congressional complaint may be, the penalty bears no rational nexus to the offense. Cutting the FAA’s budget only hurts the public; the dollars removed results in less spending on important safety programs. That makes no sense.

There was a well-known court scene in which a judge was frustrated by an advocate. From the bench, he made it clear that the attorney’s inability to understand the relevant laws was hampering the case. Instead of censuring the counsel, the jurist, on the record, handed the “unlearned” counsel a law school textbook on the subject for which the lawyer displayed a lack of knowledge. The Court recommended that the litigator not appear before this bench before he had completed the book.

Maybe if the Hill feels a need for a “pound of flesh”, it should consider delivering an accounting text. Fortunately, Congress is without sin (when did it pass a budget in the last few sessions?); so it can mete out such a sanction.

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