Leaked memo shows House Freedom Caucus is really fighting this new FAA restructuring plan

posted at 2:01 pm on February 9, 2016 by Jazz Shaw

Edit note: We were contacted by a House Freedom Caucus aide who wished to clarify that while the document published below was authored by both HFC and non-HFC sources, it is not officially the position of the entire House Freedom Caucus.

Last week we talked about a congressional move which introduced a plan to “de-federalize” air traffic control, shifting 30,000 federal workers into a non-profit corporation. I expressed some misgivings at the time, even though any move to reduce the size of the federal government gets high marks at first glance. I questioned why the unions were so gung-ho in favor of it, as well as whether or not there would really be any savings coming from the plan.

It turns out that I wasn’t alone in my questions over the wisdom of such a move. Hot Air has obtained a copy of a memo which is currently circulating around the House and it comes from the Freedom Caucus. In it, they lay out a number of points which indicate that this plan may not be the conservative goal which is portrayed in its selling points. I wouldn’t normally put in such a long quote, but since I can’t release the source of the memo you may as well read the entire thing for yourselves.

The AIRR Act is Not Conservative

H.R. 4441 – The AIRR Act, is anything but a conservative, free-market approach to air traffic control reform (ATC). The bill would establish a non-profit regulatory entity that would be designed and run by a board of self-interested industry stakeholders, absent congressional oversight. The costs of carrying out the proposal are undoubtedly high, largely unforeseen, and would be paid for by American taxpayers and the traveling public. In addition, separating ATC from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and congressional oversight would create jurisdictional and regulatory ambiguities, and in this case, present blatant conflicts of interest.

New Special-interest Bureaucracy

H.R. 4441 would let a non-government board of industry and union special interests run the new entity created to regulate the ATC system, but the American people would still pay for it.

H.R. 4441 lets this 11-person board of directors make its own rules inside of very wide parameters set by the bill.

The new board would have the ability to collect charges and fees, also known as taxes, on system users – airline passengers and plane operators – and to modify those fees as it sees fit.

Diminished Congressional Oversight

Under H.R. 4441, Congress cannot control this new regulatory entity, surrendering its oversight function over this critical system.

Without congressional control or oversight, the American people would have less of a say in how U.S. airspace is governed, while still being forced to pay into the system.

The regulatory entity does not require reauthorization, eliminating regular review of the system by Congress.

High Cost to Taxpayers and a Sweet Deal for Unions

This is the first FAA bill in twenty years to be introduced without a including a way to pay for the bill.

The 30,000-plus current ATC employees and all U.S. ATC assets would be transferred, an undertaking of huge magnitude and cost that H.R. 4441 does not adequately capture.

Under H.R. 4441, air traffic controllers would retain all the benefits of a federal government union, but would no longer be subject to federal salary caps.

These employees can also choose to stay in federal pension programs and continue to draw federal healthcare benefits, even though they no longer are government employees.

The special interest-run entity would be given billions of dollars’ worth of equipment originally paid for by taxpayers.

Less Safe

The U.S. has the safest, largest, and most complex air transportation system in the world. It is viewed worldwide as the gold standard of aviation safety.

Completely upending this system could introduce problems such as regulatory ambiguities and operational complications that could pose serious safety risks.

Some of this falls directly in line with the reservations I expressed. This new “non-profit” which would oversee the flight controllers would be, as quoted above, a non-government board of industry and union special interests. This structure would also remove them from a lot of government oversight while still allowing them to collect all of the associated “fees” which are already running wild. (And the memo’s author is correct that these are still de facto taxes and nothing more.) Who will pay for all of this? As I originally guessed, that would be the airlines. And since they never lay out a dime that they don’t squeeze back out of their customers with interest, you know who winds up paying for it in the end.

Not only that, but check out the benefits plan that the workers will be getting. (Listed toward the end of the memo.) They will still be enrolled in all of the taxpayer funded benefits of federal workers, so what’s the difference as to who is printing their paychecks? The idea that this will “shrink the size of government” is getting less and less plausible the more we learn.

Give this a look and let us know what you think. It’s a great sounding title for a bill, what with the idea of reducing the size of the federal government baked into the cake. But does it really? This is sounding more and more dodgy to me.

AirTrafficTower


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

he bill would establish a non-profit regulatory entity that would be designed and run by a board of self-interested industry stakeholders, absent congressional oversight.

They have been doing this California. That’s how they get control. It’s the use of these unelected boards that can tax, spend, and regulate.

Tell Congress to their job.

Oil Can on February 9, 2016 at 2:06 PM

If the union is supporting it it’s bad.

kcewa on February 9, 2016 at 2:07 PM

Under H.R. 4441, Congress cannot control this new regulatory entity, surrendering its oversight function over this critical system.

Without congressional control or oversight, the American people would have less of a say in how U.S. airspace is governed, while still being forced to pay into the system.

This must be that new fangled “democratic socialism” CivilDiscourse is so hot about.

darwin on February 9, 2016 at 2:13 PM

H.R. 4441 would let a non-government board of industry and union special interests run the new entity created to regulate the ATC system, but the American people would still pay for it.

Let me guess, no airplane accident will ever be blamed on ATC anymore.

rbj on February 9, 2016 at 2:13 PM

Why can’t they deregulate the air traffic controllers and have the airport take over their salaries and responsibility? Don’t individual air traffic controllers only work at one airport location? Why doesn’t this fall under the responsibilities of the individual airports? I can understand having everyone working together on the same system, but government dictates regulations to businesses all the time under the interstate commerce clause.

Why do they have to be government employees paid for by taxpayers?

dominigan on February 9, 2016 at 2:16 PM

I don’t know what this FAA stuff is, but I do know that the House “Freedom” Caucus was instrumental in pushing Paul Ryan as Speaker.

anotherJoe on February 9, 2016 at 2:19 PM

I don’t know what this FAA stuff is, but I do know that the House “Freedom” Caucus was instrumental in pushing Paul Ryan as Speaker.

anotherJoe on February 9, 2016 at 2:19 PM

I don’t know that they were “pushing” him but the majority of their members ultimately agreed not to block him from ascending to the Speaker’s chair. And they didn’t have anybody else that could get the 218 votes necessary for the job. Nevertheless, I despise Ryan as much as you.

Bitter Clinger on February 9, 2016 at 2:23 PM

Canada’s FAA is a private company. Canada!

Occams Stubble on February 9, 2016 at 2:28 PM

Another Joe, yes that right any group that has not ALWYAS done, thought or voted the way I thought correct can NEVER be good, only if they march in lock step with MY policy preferences should we pay them any heed!

Plus, did the Freedom Caucus has 109 votes for a Speaker? If not, then why complain?

Again,you want change get 109 solid TEA Party Conservatives in the House & 26 Solid TEA Party Conservatives in the Senate. Once you have that you can dictate…until then you will negotiate.

JFKY on February 9, 2016 at 2:30 PM

I’m a commercial pilot; this is a horrible idea.

There are a few things the feds should do. Regulating air traffic is probably one of them.

If you look at the incredibly lame 1500 rule passed in a crisis following the Colgan Air crash, that was sitting in the unions desks for years waiting for a tragedy to push it through. McCain and Schumer obliged.

Nevermind the pilot was an ATP. Nevermind the co-pilot had 2000, Congress wanted to pass a bill artificially restricting new pilots from entering the workforce to drive up wages.

So, why didn’t the airlines fight it? They prefer to wait for a pilot shortage crisis (which comes every 5-10 years) at which point their allies in Congress will pass a bill allowing foreign pilots to fly US aircraft on US routes. The way this ends is the same way the US Merchant Marine ended…out of business.

Giving control of ATC to special interests means the playing field will be structured to the favor of certain groups: controllers, part 121 carriers, etc. The people who will be screwed are smaller commercial operations, FBOs, general aviation, flight schools, etc.

Once you introduce user fees, you are giving pilots a cost incentive to not-participate in flight following, not file IFR, and operate on the edge. Further, this will drive up the costs of training, making Canada and Australia more cost-effective options for students from Asia and Europe. This will shutter US flight schools.

TXGRunner on February 9, 2016 at 2:31 PM

Under H.R. 4441, air traffic controllers would retain all the benefits of a federal government union, but would no longer be subject to federal salary caps.
These employees can also choose to stay in federal pension programs and continue to draw federal healthcare benefits, even though they no longer are government employees.

Enough said.

petefrt on February 9, 2016 at 2:35 PM

How many more independent agencies do we have to have before Congress literally has no purpose?

p0s3r on February 9, 2016 at 2:36 PM

The 30,000-plus current ATC employees and all U.S. ATC assets would be transferred, an undertaking of huge magnitude and cost that H.R. 4441 does not adequately capture.

“Transferred”

Yes, that’s right folks. Your government is going to “transfer” an incredible amount of hardware and real estate that you paid for to a “non-profit corporation”.

If this non-profit corporation wants to buy all that stuff and then operate it, go right ahead.

As part owner of all that expensive stuff, I say “Get bent”.

If this fails, I foresee ATC moving offshore to Bangladesh. Why not…fast-food joints have been using offshore drive-thru order takers for years.

BobMbx on February 9, 2016 at 2:37 PM

obama flies to LA, again, sidekick to Palm Springs.

Schadenfreude on February 9, 2016 at 2:40 PM

More .gov sponsored fascism.

captnjoe on February 9, 2016 at 2:40 PM

So, in short, these federal employees want to retain all the benefits of being federal employees, but no longer work for the federal government so they will not be subject to salary caps or oversight by elected officials.

The best of both worlds, while still being paid for by the bottomless pockets of you and me.

There has to be a more intelligent way to structure the Air Traffic Control in this country than either the current system or this idea which seems to be simply preserving the fed gravy train funding but at the same time severing any tethers of accountability for the public funding, pensions and all.

Tailor made for Crony Insider Big Government.

Brian1972 on February 9, 2016 at 2:42 PM

Why can’t they deregulate the air traffic controllers and have the airport take over their salaries and responsibility? Don’t individual air traffic controllers only work at one airport location? Why doesn’t this fall under the responsibilities of the individual airports? I can understand having everyone working together on the same system, but government dictates regulations to businesses all the time under the interstate commerce clause.

I’ve wondered the same thing. I can see having some sort of set of standards for training and testing, but it seems like the individual airports would be a better fit. Then the cost could be shared across all the airlines that use the terminal.

Jazz Shaw on February 9, 2016 at 2:55 PM

I love how conservatives run to the Freedom Caucus for intellectual support immediately after dismissing and pushing out the one Freedom Caucus member (and son of its founder) in the presidential primary.

It’s like you admit we libertarians are the brains of your operation, but you want all the power to go to testicles.

TBSchemer on February 9, 2016 at 2:56 PM

The idea that this will “shrink the size of government” is getting less and less plausible the more we learn.

This entire scheme reeks of the now typical neo-progressive / progressive-fascist shenanigans that emanate from the UniParty partnership which exists inside the beltway. Right down to the vapid and specious spin intended to fool the GOPe’s conservative base into supporting another big government clusterfark that benefits big government, it’s unions, and screws the taxpayer and businesses.

Any consideration that Ryan / McConnell and their apparatchiks are conservative should be entirely and utterly dismissed. There’s no difference between them and the progressive-fascists – including the contempt they hold the taxpayer in.

BURN. DOWN. THE. GOPe.

Athos on February 9, 2016 at 3:09 PM

Why should we believe these idiots when they already stabbed us in the back over Ryan and his CROmnibus III?

nobar on February 9, 2016 at 3:10 PM

Sooooo……
This is like the CFPB, for aircraft? Oh yeah, that’s gonna end well…….

GWB on February 9, 2016 at 3:44 PM

Why can’t they deregulate the air traffic controllers and have the airport take over their salaries and responsibility? Don’t individual air traffic controllers only work at one airport location?

dominigan on February 9, 2016 at 2:16 PM

Jazz Shaw on February 9, 2016 at 2:55 PM

A huge portion of the air traffic controllers don’t work at airports. Or they work at airports, but not for the airports. These are the folks who work at the various “centers” that actually manage the aircraft when they aren’t taking off or landing. Once you’re above a certain altitude on takeoff, until you reach the arrival point for your destination, your airplane is under the guidance of “Center”.

Yes, one portion of the ATC system could be handed over to airports (which will happen right after the airports are allowed to run their own security). But another portion would have to remain under some central control or management.

GWB on February 9, 2016 at 3:51 PM

Canada’s FAA is a private company. Canada!

They have 1/10th the amount of traffic. This won’t end well

datadriver on February 9, 2016 at 4:00 PM

Once you introduce user fees, you are giving pilots a cost incentive to not-participate in flight following, not file IFR, and operate on the edge. Further, this will drive up the costs of training, making Canada and Australia more cost-effective options for students from Asia and Europe. This will shutter US flight schools.

+1

datadriver on February 9, 2016 at 4:01 PM

I’ve wondered the same thing. I can see having some sort of set of standards for training and testing, but it seems like the individual airports would be a better fit. Then the cost could be shared across all the airlines that use the terminal.

Jazz Shaw on February 9, 2016 at 2:55 PM

And who would coordinate the en route aircraft? Who would control the airspace away from an airfield?

Imagine the systems interface issues if ATC is left to individual airports. What happens when JFK upgrades its system, but can’t talk to any other system because they don’t have the money to upgrade?

This is something that has to be centralized and operating at the same standards across the board.

BobMbx on February 9, 2016 at 4:01 PM

Canada’s “FAA” is Transport Canada and falls under the Minister of Transport. It is a government department. I have a license from them and have visited their *government* offices in Winnipeg and Toronto.

NavCanada is a non-profit company independent of the government, except they are heavily regulated by Transport Canada.

If you land at Winnipeg’s international airport. NavCanada sends you a bill. In fact, coincidentally, I just received a bill from NavCanada last month …for landing at Winnipeg in October 2013!

NavCanada handles air traffic control, weather, routing, etc. Many of those functions are already privatized in the US. For example, Lockheed Martin is who you call for weather reporting and to file a flight plan.

Canada only has ~2000 controllers. We have several thousand contract controllers that do not work for the FAA, but they only work at regional and executive airports. They are dwarfed by the number of FAA and military controllers that handle the busiest air space.

TXGRunner on February 9, 2016 at 4:41 PM

The probability approaches certainty that any “reform” supported by a federal government employees union doesn’t alter the status quo in favor of taxpayers.

From a policy standpoint, the problem with Government employees unions is that they essentially sit on both sides of the bargaining table because their contributions are so critical to the Democrat Party. The “reform” proposed here institutionalizes even a worse setup, if that’s possible, by giving the union direct membership on the board that runs the new corporation.

That’s far from the only problem, as the reduction in transparency and congressional oversight should also raise serious questions.

This deal reeks of Democrats and a government union trying to create an even more easily corrupted process for the benefit of government union employees and the Democrats whose campaign coffers they fill.

novaculus on February 9, 2016 at 6:17 PM

TXGRunner on February 9, 2016 at 2:31 PM

Thanks for the front-lines info.
I can see why the controllers need to be a single uniform organization.
But this looks like they just want to build another unaccountable Hydra-head like, oh, I don’t know — the one that runs the VA?

Or more like the Boards that are really running America now: NLRB, Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), and

Sooooo……
This is like the CFPB, for aircraft? Oh yeah, that’s gonna end well…….

GWB on February 9, 2016 at 3:44 PM

AesopFan on February 9, 2016 at 8:17 PM

Last I remember, one had to be a citizen to get a federal job and security clearance.
This is another back-door scam to bring in more foreign H-1B1 visa scabs.

kugelfisher on February 10, 2016 at 9:53 AM