U.S. Representative Frank A. LoBiondo (NJ-02), the only New Jersey Representative on the House Aviation Subcommittee, today reached out to both Republican and Democrat leaders of the respective House and Senate committees to find a common ground that would provide for a short-term extension of the FAA Authorization Act and ensure 4,000 furloughed FAA employees nationwide, including nearly 650 in South Jersey, can return to work. LoBiondo is also concerned about the long-term implications on critical aviation construction projects and work on the NEXTGEN project affected by the shutdown.
On Wednesday, July 20, the House passed an extension (H.R. 2553) of the FAA's programs and operations which maintains current funding levels until September 16, 2011. However, the Senate failed to approve the extension, thus resulting in the partial shutdown of the FAA at midnight on Friday, July 22. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) objected to a provision included on the House-passed extension that would reform the Essential Air Service (EAS), which provides taxpayer-funded subsides for rural airports including one in Ely, Nevada. No airports in New Jersey receive the taxpayer subsidy.
LoBiondo sent the following letter to U.S. Senators John Rockefeller (D-WV) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee, along to Representatives John Mica (FL-07) and Nick Rahall (WV-03), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, stating his willingness to forge a compromise on the issue:
Dear Chairmen and Ranking Members:
I write to express my incredible frustrations regarding the recent lapse in the authorization for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the impact it is having on FAA employees and the general public.
As you know, the FAA has been forced to furlough approximately 4,000 employees nationwide. Of this group, nearly 650 are employed at the William J. Hughes Technical Center at the Atlantic City International Airport, which performs a variety of research and development functions to improve the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System. In addition, the FAA has announced that the lack of an authorization bill is causing a delay of approximately $2.5 billion in airport improvement projects nationwide. Also, according to published media reports, the aviation taxes used to fund these construction projects is now lining the pockets of some airlines instead being set aside in the Aviation Trust Fund.
With each passing day, I am hearing from more and more of my constituents who are frustrated at being furloughed through no fault of their own. These individuals have bills to pay and families who rely on them to help make ends meet. The uncertainty of not knowing how long these furloughs may last is taking quite a toll. In South Jersey, unemployment rates remain in the double-digits, and these furloughs will further impact the local economy in a negative way.
We cannot allow the hard-working and dedicated employees of the FAA, consumers, and the general public to be treated as collateral damage. The House has passed legislation (H.R. 2553, the Airport and Airway Extension Act, Part IV) that would provide a short-term extension for the FAA along with common-sense reforms to the Essential Air Service program. The Senate has previously agreed to these reforms when it passed S. 227, the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act in February, 2011. If the Senate is unable to pass H.R. 2553, then I would urge them to pass their own extension so that we may resolve this situation in the most expeditious way. Each day that passes without any progress causes additional needless pain for my constituents and thousands of FAA employees across this country.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. I stand ready to work with you in any way I can to resolve this issue.