A picture of Representative Peter A. DeFazio
Peter D.
Democrat OR 4

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  • Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2015

    by Representative Peter A. DeFazio

    Posted on 2015-09-28

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    DeFAZIO. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

    Mr. Speaker, I agree with my good friend, the gentleman from New Jersey, that it is essential that we pass H.R. 3614--the Senate passed it expeditiously--and it be signed by the President. We cannot afford even, you know, the thought of a shutdown of the FAA. We have actually gone down that road in the past.

    Chairman Mica, in July of 2011, put some provisions into an FAA reauthorization that were objectionable to two very powerful Senators, and we actually went through a shutdown. What we lost was $400 million of revenue because the excise tax expired.

    Now, one airline, to give them credit, did pass the savings through, the excise tax, Alaska Airlines. All the other airlines kept the money, and we lost $400 million from the trust fund.

    Capital programs ground to a halt. Airport construction ground to a halt, threatening tens of thousands of jobs. Airport inspectors had to work. They were essential employees. They weren't paid, and they couldn't get government vouchers, so they had to use their personal credit cards to purchase tickets to go to work to do their job, which they weren't being paid for.

    I mean, this was the ultimate of absurdity. I only go into some detail on that because that is relevant to this extension.

    This is a 6-month extension. That should give us more than ample time to agree upon a long-term FAA authorization. Much work has already been done on major portions of the bill, but some disagreements remain over the future of the air traffic organization.

    My preference would be to insulate the entire FAA from future vicissitudes of Congress going off the rails with a shutdown and furloughs and provisions that are unacceptable to the Senate that cause a temporary lapse in authorization. You know, we can get there. We are very close now. This year, all but 7 percent of the FAA's budget will be paid for by user fees, excise taxes, and others, so we are quite close.

    We would like to reform procurement, to streamline it and make it work better at the FAA. When I was a very young Member of Congress, I got to witness the airport air traffic controller's workstation of the future. That was 1987. Well, it is 2015, and they don't have them yet.

    The FAA is the only agency of government worse at procurement than the Pentagon. Congress has tried to reform it; it didn't stick. We have got to try something different to get it to be more agile to give us the 21st century equipment and software that we need.

    Then there are issues of the actual sort of shape of the FAA bureaucracy, a little bit like that in the middle. Congress, also back in 1986, gave the FAA license to reform personnel practices to deal with some of that midlevel management bulge and streamline the agency and decisionmaking process, but that didn't take either.

    So the three problems are the predictability of funding and the agency being able to look into the future without having to worry about shutdowns, furloughs--I don't know how much time they spent over the last couple of weeks getting ready for this shutdown that everyone thought would come this week before Speaker Boehner announced his retirement; that has got to [[Page H6274]] be dealt with--and then also the procurement reform and the personnel.

    The chairman's solution is to separate only the air traffic organization from the FAA and insulate that from Congress and those sorts of problems and make it, you know, free of the procurement rules and a lot of the personnel rules. I would prefer to do that with the entire agency, because there are functions--we do have the best air traffic control system in the world. We are busier in the U.S. with more planes under instrument flight rules on a daily basis, about 20 percent more on an IFR average, than Canada, U.K., France, and Germany combined.

    So we know we have a safe system. We move massive amounts of air traffic. We don't want to mess that up. And I understand, but I also don't think we can isolate it from other decisionmakers in the agency and leave them subject to the vicissitudes of Congress.

    The people who do the certifications, who do the inspections, who do the safety, it seems to me it should all be moved; and I propose a 21st century constitutionally chartered corporation in order to accomplish those goals and make it self-funding, self-sufficient, and not subject to appropriations or shutdowns or anything else that a future Congress might imagine. So that is the hangup. We haven't agreed on that part yet, but I think we can.

    We share common objectives, and 6 months should be more than ample time. I am hopeful that early this fall the chairman and I can resolve those issues with other members of the committee, and then we can go forward with our colleagues in the Senate and hopefully have, you know, a bill on the President's desk early, early next year, if not by the end of this year, although December promises to be perhaps a bit chaotic around here.

    {time} 1600 In any case, 6 months should be ample time. I do not anticipate multiple short-term extensions. I don't want them, nor does the chairman, nor do, I believe, any other thoughtful members of the committee.

    I see the gentleman from New Jersey shaking his head. We couldn't agree more. We have been down that road before, down that runway before. We don't want to go down that runway again.

    Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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