By U.S. Representative Frank A. LoBiondo(NJ-02)
For two weeks this summer, Congress engaged in some of the most inexcusable and indefensible grand-standing that I’ve ever witnessed. Due to partisan bickering over unrelated issues, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was caught in the crossfire. It is incomprehensible as to why Congress has been unable to agree upon a long-term authorization of the FAA since 2007, thus requiring twenty-one extensions. Each of these short-term fixes – some lasting mere weeks – has fostered an uncertainty and fear at the FAA that their operating authority may be abruptly halted, vital programs shuttered and workers furloughed. This fear was realized on July 22nd with a partial shutdown.
As a result, 4,000 federal FAA employees nationwide were immediately furloughed, with nearly 650 locally at the William J. Hughes FAA Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township affected. Airport construction projects were shutdown, including those at the Millville and Cape May County airports, impacting approximately 70,000 construction workers nationwide. Countless contractors and subcontractors were issued stop-work orders on the aviation modernization project known as NEXTGEN, threatening the livelihood of their small businesses and progress on the critical initiative.
In South Jersey, twenty-seven such stop-work orders were issued, affecting hundreds of private employees who contract with the FAA. In one case the two week shutdown and lack of revenue proved too burdensome to overcome, thus causing the small business to permanently shutter and its employees laid-off. With more than 9 percent unemployment nationally and double-digit unemployment in much of South Jersey, this shutdown inflicted avoidable cuts against an already wounded economy. Furthermore, it cost the Airport & Airway Trust Fund approximately $400 million in federal airline taxes over the two weeks, thus impacting future FAA projects.
From the beginning, I worked with House Speaker John Boehner, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and my colleagues in the House and Senate to broker a compromise and end the partial shutdown. I pressed upon them the disastrous economic and national security consequences of allowing the work – and livelihoods – of thousands of FAA employees, contractors and subcontractors assigned to NEXTGEN be delayed. Equally threatening to the development and implementation of NEXTGEN across our aviation transportation network is the lack of reliable federal funding. While the economic realities facing our nation call for serious belt-tightening and detailed examination of our budgets, the NEXTGEN project remains a cost-effective investment for taxpayers. What it lacks is a commitment by Congress to provide consistent funding year after year – the type of funding a full four-year FAA authorization bill would provide.
The current FAA extension expires on September 16, thus leaving little time for Congress to consider and complete a full four-year authorization. While another extension will likely be required, this must be the last. We cannot continue this cycle of uncertainty for FAA employees and contractors working on the NEXTGEN project, nor consumers including the airlines who seek a safer, more efficient and more secure aviation network. It is in the nation’s shared interest for Congress to complete a four-year authorization of the FAA; it is in South Jersey’s significant interest to ensure the essential work on NEXTGEN is not further disrupted.