FAA supervisors struggle to save their jobs

klunney@govexec.com

Frustrated by stalled negotiations with the Federal Aviation Administration, air traffic control supervisors are making a last-ditch attempt to save hundreds of managerial jobs from the chopping block.

The Federal Managers Association (FMA) is publicly blasting the FAA's plan to cut supervisory positions through attrition and instead give air traffic controllers more leadership responsibilities. The effort is known as the "controller-in-charge" (CIC) initiative. FMA President Michael B. Styles said FAA's current plan, "could adversely affect the overall operational efficiency and safety of the U.S. aviation system."

The CIC initiative calls for the elimination of approximately 700 experienced air traffic control supervisors over several years, replacing them with bargaining unit members acting as team leaders. CICs currently provide coverage of air traffic operations in the temporary absence of supervisors.

In 1998, the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association agreed to increase air traffic controller positions and increase pay by thirty percent. Additional funding was not provided by Congress to offset the costs, so the FAA decided to eliminate supervisors as a cost-cutting measure.

FMA officials said that negotiations on the CIC issue between their organization and the FAA have come to a standstill. John Fisher, the head of FMA's Federal Aviation Administration Conference, noted that discussions on the amount of training for CICs, quality assurance measures, and actual CIC selection are particularly thorny. The FMA claims that under current plans, CICs do not receive the kind of training that would allow them to serve in a supervisory capacity on a permanent basis. A 1992 FAA study found that operational errors increased when the number of air traffic supervisors decreased.

"With the expansion of air travel, we don't feel that the reduction of supervisors is the appropriate measure to put in place to ensure the safety and efficiencies that the American flying public is entitled to," Fisher said.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, in turn, argues that there are too many supervisors, and that having more controllers-not more bosses-will improve safety.

The conference report accompanying the Department of Transportation's fiscal 2000 appropriations bill banned further reductions in air traffic control supervisors until the close of fiscal 2000. The managerial ranks were cut from 2,200 to 2,025 over the last two years. The supervisory cuts are scheduled to resume next year.

In 1998, the Transportation Department's Inspector General released a report concluding that the FAA could implement the CIC program without sacrificing safety standards if it followed four specific recommendations-one of which urged the agency to "develop and provide CIC training courses that encompass the additional functions, authority, and responsibility assumed from supervisors."

The FAA press office was not prepared to comment on the issue Thursday.

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