FAA furloughs 4,000 employees as Congress fails to provide funding

By Fawn Johnson

July 22, 2011

The Federal Aviation Administration shut down partially, starting at midnight on Friday, after lawmakers failed to reach a last-minute agreement on a stopgap funding measure for the agency.

Air traffic control systems remained in operation, and employees doing those jobs will be fully paid. Until Congress acts, the FAA will be unable to collect federal taxes on airline tickets, and must furlough 4,000 federal workers, including almost 1,000 in Washington. Democrats say another 87,000 jobs could be put in danger because private sector construction workers will be forced to walk off of airport improvement jobs.

"Congressional authorization for several FAA programs expired at 12:01 a.m. on July 23," the FAA said in a statement. "As a result, nearly 4,000 FAA employees are now furloughed without pay. Those employees affected by the lapse in authorization have been notified by their managers and will receive a furlough notice via FAA email."

Employees who have not been told that they are furloughed are expected to report to work as scheduled.

The stopgap bill under consideration would be the 21st such extension since the FAA authorization expired in 2007. House Republicans included provisions in the stopgap to cut airport subsidies in some areas, including those of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. The stopgap bill passed the House Wednesday over the objections of Democrats in both chambers.

The standoff began as a dispute between House Republicans and the Democrats over rural airport subsidies, but it has since grown into a broader blame game about who is responsible for failing to reauthorize funding for the FAA over the long term.

On the Senate floor Friday, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, objected to Senate Democrats' attempt to pass a "clean" FAA extension with no policy language on airport subsidies. He spent his floor time talking about a much thornier labor issue that is holding up a broader FAA bill. Republicans want to roll back a decision from the National Mediation Board that makes it easier for rail and aviation workers to unionize. That issue isn't addressed in the stopgap extension, but it is the biggest stumbling block in the way of a broader bill. "A lot of us on this side are getting a little tired of the National Labor Relations Board usurping the power of the Congress," Hatch said.

Democrats cried foul over the failure to extend funding for the FAA without policy riders. "By senselessly shutting down the FAA tonight at midnight, the House Republican leadership is willing to lay off tens of thousands of middle-class American construction workers and jeopardize billions of dollars in airport construction simply to score a few political points for tea party extremists," said House Transportation Committee ranking member Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.

Expect the blame game to continue into the week-House versus Senate, Republicans versus Democrats. It isn't clear how the impasse will be resolved or who will be required to back down. "It is unbelievable that after the House passed the 21st FAA extension, the Senate departed Washington and left the FAA and many of its employees behind," said Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., who authored the House-passed bill that cut back on the rural subsidies.

By Fawn Johnson

July 22, 2011