As the threat of sequester looms large, I must underscore the absurdity of the FAA’s contention that it has no choice but to inconvenience the traveling public if Congress cannot reach an eleventh hour settlement today.
Gary argued this last week, came under attack for it, and made an even more cogent argument last night. He is correct–the FAA is “contorting themselves to come up with the most painful way possible to account for those cuts.” And it need not be this way. Gary and I share the view that despite the definition of sequester, agencies have much greater discretion than is assumed in adjusting their budget. Allowing greater agency discretion would be far less of an exercise of executive authority relative to the Budget Control Act than is routinely exercised by this and past administrations. Has a rigid and one-sided interpretation of the text of a law ever stymied agency prerogative in the past?
Transportation researcher Robert Poole writes:
The Administration’s marching orders to all government agencies covered by the sequester law (including FAA’s parent, the Department of Transportation) seem designed to inflict maximum pain on the traveling public, in hopes of mobilizing aviation stakeholders, the media, and the traveling public to demand that Congress change the law. I have tried to figure out how a mandated cut of $600 million—under 5%– in the FAA’s $12.75 billion budget (excluding the exempted airport grants program) could possibly require all-hands furloughs reducing 47,000 daily personnel by 10% and the shut-down of 100 low-activity (mostly contract) towers and ending midnight shifts at 60 or more low-activity towers (which should have been done in any case). This appears to be a classic example of the “Washington Monument” strategy of trying to prevent budget cuts by proposing the worst possible method of coping—rather than finding 5% of the budget that could be eliminated or deferred with the least harm.
In an interview with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on CNN, Candy Crowley noted that even with the sequester:
- The FAA will have more money in this year’s budget than last
- The cuts bring the FAA back to their 2008 funding level in inflation-adjusted dollars
- The level of domestic flights has dropped by 27% since 9/11
- The FAA budget is up 41% since 9/11
The Secretary could not explain away these points.
Folks, this whole exercise is a tactic of fear and intimidation by the Administration to scare Republicans in Congress into relenting and to sway public opinion. If sequester happens and we do see travel delays in the coming weeks, it is not because these delays were necessary.
I am not arguing that sequester is a good thing. Surely, precision cuts are preferred to an across the board hacking of department budgets. I have several friends who are defense contractors and will feel the pain very soon if sequester happens. Nevertheless, agencies still do retain some discretion–if they choose to exercise it–and let’s face it: we are still talking about only a 5% reduction in the discretionary spending budget. It seems to me that until someone is willing to tackle entitlement spending this 5% cutback is just the first chop, with the lumberjack now sharpening his ax again.