FAA seeks greater control over budget

FAA seeks budget independence


The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday sent Congress a proposal that would let the agency keep all the revenue it collects for the air traffic control system, cutting congressional committees out of the budgetary loop.

Under FAA's proposal, air traffic control operations would be transferred to a performance-based organization (PBO), a management model developed by Vice President Al Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government. The PBO would collect user fees for air traffic services and FAA would keep the money, rather than wait for Congress to reappropriate funds the following year. The PBO could immediately spend the money it collected on improvements to the air traffic control system.

"With this legislation, the FAA's funding and financing system will receive a federal budget treatment that ensures that fees from aviation users and spending on aviation services are directly linked," FAA Administrator Jane Garvey said.

The proposal would weaken congressional committees' power over FAA spending. While numerous congressional committees control the way FAA collects and spends user fees and air travel taxes (including the House Ways and Means, Senate Finance, House Budget, Senate Budget, House Appropriations and Senate Appropriations committees), the proposal would allow Congress only one means of disapproving user fee levels: A joint resolution within 10 days after the FAA presented a proposed set of fees.

Control over the fees would be largely vested in a chief operating officer for the air traffic services PBO, who would be appointed by the Transportation Secretary. The position would not require Senate confirmation. The COO would sign a performance agreement each year and would serve at the pleasure of the Transportation Secretary. The COO's base pay would be set on the Senior Executive pay scale, but the COO would also be eligible for performance bonuses of up to half of base pay.

The National Civil Aviation Review Commission, created by Congress, recommended in December 1997 that air traffic services be run by a PBO. But congressional committees have traditionally been leery of giving up control over agencies' budgets.

Congress has also shown little interest so far in PBOs. Three agencies--the Patent and Trademark Office, the Defense Commissary Agency, and the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation--have submitted PBO proposals to Congress, but have received little response. A House proposal to create a PBO to run federal student aid has also not advanced on the Hill.