The Federal Aviation Administration
A worked example of the effects of congressional stupidity
Aug 6th 2011 | NEW YORK | from the print edition
LaGuardia’s old tower, now partly down
AFTER he had signed the debt-ceiling deal, Barack Obama mentioned “another Washington-inflicted wound on America”. He was speaking about the impasse over funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which manages air safety and air-traffic control. Congressmen could not resolve a petty disagreement over the extension of the agency’s operating-authority bill, which expired on July 22nd. As a result, the agency has partly shut down, and 4,000 employees have been sent home. Air-traffic controllers are still on the job, as they are paid from a different source. But scores of FAA construction and research projects have been halted, affecting at least 70,000 workers. “Members of Congress should not get on a plane to fly home for vacation without passing an FAA bill and putting thousands of people back to work,” said Ray LaHood, the transport secretary. His words were drowned in the rush for the doors.
The FAA’s long-term funding bill expired in 2007. Since then Congress has passed, with little fuss, 20 stopgap bills, each lasting a few months. This time round, politicians could not agree on seemingly minor provisions. House Republicans passed a bill that cut $16.5m in federal subsidies for passengers at a dozen remote rural airports, something the Senate Democrats oppose. They also oppose a measure that would make it more difficult for airline workers to unionise. Because of this impasse over $16.5m a year, the government is losing $30m a day in uncollected federal taxes on airline tickets.
A long shutdown could cost taxpayers more than $1 billion by next month. And passengers are not even enjoying a tax holiday at the airport, as most airlines have raised fares by an equal 7.5% (though Delta and US Airways are promising, shamefaced, to refund the money to customers). Jamie Baker of JPMorgan estimates that the daily benefit to the airline industry could approach $25m.
For laid-off workers, the picture is less rosy. They are unlikely to get back to work before September. That worries Luca Toscano of Paul J. Scariano, a contractor on a $6m stalled demolition project at LaGuardia airport. He estimates that 70 jobs may be at risk there. A new tower was opened in January; the old one is being dismantled to improve sightlines. Two storeys have been removed, and an abandoned digger now sits on top of the partly dismantled tower. More than 200 stop-work orders have been issued across the country, suspending $10.5 billion-worth of projects in the middle of the building season.
而失业工人的状况就没有那么好了。九月以前他们不大可能回去上班。这让Paul J. Scariano公司的卢卡•托斯卡诺很担心。该公司是拉瓜地机场一个价值600万美元的拆迁项目的承包商。工程现已停工。他估计，工地上有可能损失70个工作岗位。新空管塔于一月份启用；为了改善视线，旧塔正在拆除中。有两层已被拆除，一台无人管的挖掘机停放在被部分拆除的塔顶上。全国各地签发的停工令有200多个，致使价值达105亿美元的工程在施工季节暂时停工。
Meanwhile, 40 FAA airport safety inspectors are working without pay. They are flying from airport to airport, checking runways and monitoring airfields. What is more, they are travelling on their own dime, hoping they will be reimbursed when the shutdown ends. If only a similar unselfishness prevailed on Capitol Hill.