GOP may drop privatization language from FAA bill

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said Tuesday the GOP leadership has "been discussing" dropping contentious language on privatizing air-traffic control jobs from the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization conference report.

Earlier in the day, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called the provision a poison pill and said he did not think it could pass the House. Hoyer also slammed GOP leaders for inserting the language in conference when neither the House bill nor the Senate bill included it.

"This is the kind of egregious process that ought to outrage the American people," Hoyer said.

In July, members of a House-Senate conference committee agreed to scrap provisions in the versions of the bill passed by each chamber that would have prevented the FAA from outsourcing air traffic controllers' jobs. They also scuttled a Senate-passed provision that would prevent the FAA from competing the jobs of 2,700 flight service specialists at 58 stations across the country, the biggest job competition in government. Flight service specialists provide weather briefings to pilots and assist with search and rescue activities, but they do not separate air traffic.

In place of these provisions, conferees adopted language that would bar outsourcing of air traffic controllers until fiscal 2008. But they exempted 71 low- and medium-activity towers from this ban, giving the FAA leeway to outsource jobs at these towers. The FAA has already privatized jobs at 218 low-activity towers.

DeLay said GOP leaders committed to moving language to extend the program's authorization before it expires Oct. 1. "I don't know how we're going to do it," DeLay added as he listed several procedural options for getting it through, such as taking up a stand-alone bill or adding it to the supplemental or the continuing resolution.