By Tom Smith
During last week’s ACI-NA/AAAE Washington Legislative Conference, while federal officials reviewed their past accomplishments it is worth noting their forward-looking observations on the 2015 FAA reauthorization and the TSA.
Participating in the Thursday briefings of airport directors were FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, (R-N.H.), Sen. Dan Coats, (R-Ind.), Rep. Michael McCaul, (R-Texas), Rep. Richard Hudson, (R-N.C.), and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.).
On FAA reauthorization
The FAA is taking a “systematic approach” within the organization looking for changes that will enable it to operate more efficiently and effectively, Whitaker said. “We need to invest in airports to stay competitive internationally and meet demand,” he said. “We need to invest in new technology.”
With reauthorization 500 days away, Ayotte said now is the time for stakeholders, including airports, to provide their feedback as to what they want to see changed or included in the new law. Congress needs your help to make “common sense” decisions that will shape the nation’s aviation policy, she said.
“We want to hear from you. Reach out to my office on ways we can do things better,” said Ayotte, the ranking Republican on the Senate Aviation Subcommittee.
The biggest obstacles to the next FAA bill will the “remnants of the last time,” said Rahall, “primarily the funding levels.” Rahall, the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, noted he is working to preserve the Essential Air Service (EAS) program “so it does not become ESA,” an Endangered Species Act.
“I have been critical of TSA Administrator John Pistole when he did not get enough stakeholder input, especially on the exit lane plan,” said Hudson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Transportation Subcommittee and the 2014 Commissioner’s Congressional Leadership Award honoree. “I have asked him to work with me and stakeholders” to develop a long-term plan for the exit lanes – one that would reduce the use of TSA officers and provide airports with the funds to use new technology. “I have his commitment to come to the table. It is a win-win-win.”
Hudson, McCaul and Ayotte noted a study is needed to improve the use of technology at exit lanes.
The TSA’s acquisition of technology has been plagued with problems that waste airport resources. Ayotte noted she is the Senate sponsor of a bill that has already won unanimous House approval to reform the TSA’s technology program so that there is greater transparency and accountability also with common sense reforms. This reform needs greater participation of the private sector, she said.
McCaul noted his “pet project” is to get the private sector more involve with the TSA, in particular the private screening program. “I think the private sector can do a better job. We should make it easier for you to apply for private screeners if that is what you want to do. They will save taxpayers’ dollars and they maybe more efficient,” said McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Both Coats and Hudson observed that Homeland Security is now operating in a different budgetary environment than when it was created. A smaller foot print is needed.
The proposed DHS budget is 4 percent less than last year, said Coats, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriation Subcommittee on Homeland Security. There are proposed user fee hikes in the Obama budget that would fund program expansions. “There are considerable political issues that need to be overcome,” he said. “The proposal doesn’t have majority support in either House and we will need to look at what we can shift in the budget.”