White House threatens to veto FAA bill over privatization language

The White House is threatening to veto the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill if it includes language that blocks the agency from outsourcing air traffic control jobs.

Despite repeated statements that it has no plans to outsource air traffic controllers, the Bush administration is resisting a measure in the House version of the FAA bill, H.R. 2115, which would prohibit outsourcing. In a statement issued Wednesday, the Office of Management and Budget said the outsourcing provision, sponsored by Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn. could derail the $58 billion reauthorization bill.

"If the final legislation includes provisions that would inappropriately prohibit the conversion of FAA facilities or functions from the federal government to the private sector, the president's senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill," said OMB.

The House passed the bill, which included the Oberstar measure, by a vote of 418 to 8 on Wednesday. Oberstar's provision is Section 434 of the bill.

Trent Duffy, an OMB spokesman, said Bush officials are opposed to any legislation that would exempt certain groups of employees from its competitive sourcing initiative, which seeks to put 425,000 federal jobs up for competition from private firms.

"There's a principle that once you permit any group to be blocked from being part of competitive sourcing, that would open the floodgates," he said. Congress should allow agencies to make their own determination of what jobs are eligible for competitive sourcing, he added.

FAA officials have said that air traffic controllers are not candidates for competitive sourcing. The agency included air traffic controllers in its most recent inventory of "commercial" jobs, required under the 1998 Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act, but used a clause in the law to exempt controllers from possible outsourcing. In a Dec. 19 letter to air traffic employees, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey stressed that controllers "will not be contracted out."

Given these statements, backers of the Oberstar measure were surprised to see the administration threaten a veto over his provision. "I don't understand why they would be willing to veto a $58 billion bill over just that language," said James Morhard, Democratic spokesman for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "This suggests that they really are planning substantial changes to the air traffic system that they don't want us to forestall," he said.

"Those concerns are unfounded," replied OMB's Duffy. "These [positions] are commercial and exempt [from possible competition] and everyone knows that so there is no need for additional legislative protections," he said.

OMB's statement builds on a May 20 letter from Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to Alaska Republican Don Young, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in which Mineta expressed concern with the Oberstar provision. Mineta also protested separate legislation sponsored by Oberstar, H.R. 1711, that would protect all air traffic control jobs from job competitions. Oberstar's bill would stop an ongoing job competition at the FAA that involves 2,700 flight service specialists.

"The bottom line is that the legislation would stop this study-a study that encourages FAA managers and the FAA workforce to look for innovative ways to provide higher quality services at less cost," wrote Mineta. Mineta added that he would recommend a veto of the FAA reauthorization legislation if lawmakers tried to add language halting the flight service specialist competition to that bill. The FAA spends more than $400 million on flight service operations each year.

Robert Poole, director of transportation studies at the Reason Foundation, a Los-Angeles based think tank, said some Bush officials remain interested in turning air traffic control operations over to a nonprofit entity, or creating a government corporation supported by user fees to handle the work. The Oberstar provision would bar these options, including the government corporation model, which was supported by the Clinton administration, according to Poole.

John Carr, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said Congress would fight any effort to privatize air traffic control. "It's a bipartisan issue and we are confident members on both sides of the aisle understand the safety implications of what is being discussed," he said.

Oberstar's provision would not affect the existing contract tower program, under which contractors staff 209 low-activity air traffic control towers.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.