WASHINGTON, D.C. — Politics in Washington, normally baffling, is even more so now that the Super Committee has failed to reach an agreement on funding with a highly contested election approaching and the nation facing a massive $15 trillion debt.
When the Super Committee was formed, Congress included in the bill a provision that if the committee failed to reach an agreement by Nov. 21, an automatic $1.2 trillion in spending cuts would start in 2013. About half of these cuts would come from defense and entitlements.
But when you talk in the trillions, that still leaves substantial cuts to come from other government activities, including aviation. Will Congress move to change those automatic cuts or will those mandated reductions take effect? Expectations here are that Congress will change the mandated cuts. In fact, Congress started to undo its own automatic cuts plan even before the failure of the Super Committee was announced.
Whichever way lawmakers go, aviation funding will be one of many issues of contention. FAA reauthorization still must be ironed out before the 22nd short-term authorization runs out in January. NextGen needs definite funding. Airport development will be under scrutiny. Air traffic controller numbers may have to be reduced.
Congressman John Mica (R-Fla.) says savings could be made now in one matter affecting aviation. He recently released a report on the Transportation Security Administration, compiled by the staff of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The report was issued on the 10th anniversary of creating TSA after terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the thwarted attack by the aircraft forced to crash in Pennsylvania.
Mica said the report shows TSA “has strayed from its security mission and mushroomed into a top bureaucracy that includes 3,986 headquarters staff, making $103,852 per year on average, and 9,656 administrators in the field. TSA has 65,000 employees.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Cal.), who chairs the Oversight and Government Committee, said the TSA was envisioned and sold to the American people as a protective agency that would strategically employ the latest technology and cutting-edge tactics to protect travelers. “Despite these high ambitions,” he added, “the agency has become a backwards-looking dinosaur that seeks employees through pizza box advertising and struggles to detect actual terrorist threats.” Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) said, “Americans have spent nearly $60 billion funding TSA, and they are no safer today than they were before 9/11.”
TSA is one of 21 agencies in the Department of Homeland Security and turnovers in the top post of TSA administrator have been excessive.
Mica said he wants a leaner TSA. “While we are safer today than we were 10 years ago, this is largely due to the vigilance of American citizens and passengers,” he noted.
General aviation groups have been active in developing and implementing programs to maintain security at GA airports, such as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Airport Watch program.
Charles Spence is General Aviation News’ Washington, D.C., correspondent.