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Letter to The Honorable Ray LaHood, Secretary of United States Department of Transportation, and The Honorable Michael Huerta, Administrator of Federal Aviation Administration

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.), a member of both the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, today wrote to Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta demanding answers regarding the recent furloughs that have sidelined 1,500 air traffic controllers and caused significant travel disruptions across the country.

In the letter, Coats writes, "It is completely unacceptable for you to fail to plan ahead for the impacts of sequestration, despite a year of advance warning, and then refuse to analyze all possible alternatives in an effort to minimize the impacts on the traveling public."

Coats added, "These irresponsible actions have the potential to cause significant harm to the American economy, and they reflect both incompetence and a shocking lack of sound business management. It is unacceptable for the leadership at DOT and FAA to blame the Budget Control Act for your decisions when it is clear that you have not explored every possible option for implementation of these sequestration cuts."

The FAA briefed airlines on the decision to furlough these employees on April 16, 2013, but Administrator Huerta did not report that decision to Congress when testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee on April 16 and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development on April 18.

In the letter, Coats calls on Secretary LaHood and Administrator Huerta to halt implementation of these "across the board" furloughs until analyses are conducted by the FAA that could significantly reduce or eliminate projected delays.

The full letter is included below:

April 23, 2013

The Honorable Ray LaHood
Secretary
United States Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20591

The Honorable Michael Huerta
Administrator
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20590

Dear Secretary LaHood and Administrator Huerta:

I am writing in regards to the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) recent announcements regarding air traffic controller furloughs. Although the FAA previously reported to the Congress and the public that its guiding principle for implementing sequestration was to minimize the impact to the highest number of travelers, the FAA began implementing "across the board" furloughs on April 21, 2013 that it says will result in as many as 6,700 delays per day. To put these delays into context, the worst weather day in 2012 resulted in more than 2,900 flight delays.

I am very concerned about both the Department of Transportation's and the FAA's lack of planning in the implementation of sequestration. While I opposed the Budget Control Act that established sequestration cuts because the policy falsely assumed that all federal programs are created equal, the President signed this legislation into law and these cuts are now in effect. The FAA's decision to implement "across the board" furloughs is especially surprising given the FAA's previous announcements regarding minimizing the impacts to travelers. It is troubling that the FAA has neither chosen to reduce the number of furloughs by taking advantage of the reprogramming and transfer authority available, nor has it chosen to exhaust all possible cuts to non-essential expenditures like travel, supplies, consultants, and other non-essential contracts. Instead of furloughing 47,000 employees and impacting travelers, both the DOT and the FAA should have made reductions elsewhere. For example, cuts could have been made to the $541 million spent on consultants or the $2.7 billion spent on non-personnel costs.

I also am frustrated that, although the FAA briefed airlines on the decision to furlough these employees on April 16, 2013, Administrator Huerta chose to withhold this information from Congress during recent testimonies before the Senate Commerce Committee on April 16, 2013 and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development on April 18, 2013. I am additionally surprised to learn that the FAA's Chief Operating Officer David Grizzle reported to Senate staff at a briefing on April 18, 2013 that the FAA specifically chose not to analyze other furlough options that may have mitigated the impact on travelers. Mr. Grizzle reported to staff that analysis of alternatives to the FAA's "across the board" furlough choice were not conducted because those analyses would have violated the "fundamental premise" of the FAA's implementation of the sequester - equity among federal employees - and would be too time consuming.

It is completely unacceptable for you to fail to plan ahead for the impacts of sequestration, despite a year of advance warning, and then refuse to analyze all possible alternatives in an effort to minimize the impacts on the traveling public. These irresponsible actions have the potential to cause significant harm to the American economy, and they reflect both incompetence and a shocking lack of sound business management. It is unacceptable for the leadership at DOT and FAA to blame the Budget Control Act for your decisions when it is clear that you have not explored every possible option for implementation of these sequestration cuts.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development and the Senate Commerce Committee, I request that you halt implementation of these "across the board" furloughs until analyses are conducted by FAA that could significantly reduce or eliminate projected delays. Specifically the FAA should use as its guiding principle in these models, as it previously announced it would, a plan that maintains safety and minimizes the impact to the highest number of travelers. I further request that you explain if, and how, you have achieved all of the savings possible to avoid these furloughs. I additionally request an explanation as to why the FAA did not inform the Senate Commerce Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee of these decisions when testifying before both committees last week. Finally, I request a clarification as to whether DOT will be waiving the so-called "Three Hour Rule," as this ill-conceived plan will exacerbate delays across the National Airspace System (NAS).

I appreciate your consideration of my concerns and look forward to receiving a written response by April 26, 2013. Should you or your staff have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me or Michael Quiello on my staff.

Sincerely,

Dan Coats
United States Senator


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