Today, Rep. Michael G. Grimm (R,C-SI/Brooklyn) sent a letter to FAA Administrator Michael P. Huestra expressing his outrage over a deal that was struck between the PANYNJ and the FAA that would force the PANYNJ to pay a $3.5 million fine and bifurcate its emergency response teams into two separate police and firefighter units -- raising PANYNJ costs and imposing new labor standards.
"Congress has weighed in on this matter repeatedly, only to be ignored each time by the FAA," said Grimm. "The dual system has helped maintain high safety levels at our airports, with ARFF-trained police officers providing a second line of defense in emergency situations. There's no clear evidence that bifurcation will increase safety; however, it is certain to increase PA costs. Who will pay for this? The people of Staten Island are already bearing the burden of the PA's debt and mismanagement with exorbitant tolls, and simply cannot afford anymore bailouts."
For over 60 years Port Authority firefighters and police have performed dual roles at the PANYNJ airports with an exemplary record. When a major incident occurs, the first line of defense is the immediate deployment of aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) assigned firefighters who are in the firehouse. The second line of defense are ARFF trained police officers who are working police shifts who immediately suit up in proximity gear they carry in the trunks of their patrol cars. The third line of defense are non-ARFF trained police. This seamless system provides for a unified and coordinated response, one chain-of-command, one communication system and one standard protocol.
The deal announced today would change the current system, as well as impose fines, extra costs, and new labor standards. The Port Authority Police Benevolent Association also opposes the agreement.
The text of the letter is below:
April 8, 2013
The Honorable Michael P. Huerta
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20591
Dear Administrator Huerta:
I am writing today to express my outrage over the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) agreement with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PANYNJ) regarding the bifurcation of aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) trained police and firefighters, and request to discuss the matter with you personally.
Members of the New York and New Jersey delegations, as well as leaders on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, have made repeated requests for clarification on the FAA's statutory authority to regulate bifurcation personnel matters and on how the creation of a standalone firefighting unit at PANYNJ airports would better protect the flying public. Neither DOT nor FAA has answered these questions. Today, we were blindsided to learn of an agreement -- via a FAA press release - that will increase costs and impose new labor standards on our airport's response teams.
On January 31, 2013, I sent a letter to Secretary Ray LaHood signed by twenty-four Members of Congress asking, "What is the legal basis for FAA staff to require bifurcation and what safety needs will be better served with bifurcation at the PANYNJ airports?" The response we received on February 25, 2013 simply stated, "It will take additional time for the Department to complete its response, which we will provide as soon as possible." Once again, we have yet to receive any clarification or justification from the FAA.
The Port Authority's policing and firefighting responses have been called "exemplary" by the NTSB. The dual system has provided a seamless, unified and coordinated response; one chain-of-command; one communication system; and one standard protocol. Members of Congress have repeatedly applauded the response efforts at our airports and questioned the impact of bifurcation on safety. Having received no explanation from the FAA, it is clear that congressional intent was in no way considered when the deal was made.
The deal announced today will impose a $3.5 million fine on the debt-stricken PANYNJ. In addition, the forced bifurcation will cost the PANYNJ millions of additional dollars each year, as they will have to set up a separate firefighting cadre with substantially higher operating costs. This cost will without a doubt be passed on to residents in my district - who are already bearing the brunt of the PANYNJ's debt and mismanagement through $15 tolls -- with no guarantee of additional safety at our airports. In addition, in striking this deal, the administration has imposed dramatic changes to work conditions, which could be in violation of collective bargaining agreements. For the PANYNJ to agree to this is unconscionable.
It is clear from the FAA's actions that intent of Congress and the opposition to bifurcation by the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association have been completely ignored. In fact, it seems this decision was made solely by Washington bureaucrats. As a Member of Congress, I find the complete disregard for our inquiries insulting and unprofessional.
I am requesting a meeting or phone call with you to discuss this matter immediately, at which point I ask that you provide answers to my questions as well as a cost-benefit analysis justifying bifurcation. Should my request for answers be ignored for a third time, I plan to work with the appropriate committees of jurisdiction to schedule a hearing on this matter. I look forward to your prompt reply.
MICHAEL G. GRIMM
Member of Congress