I had thought (or at least hoped) that this was an idea which had died on the vine last year, but with the release of President Trump’s new budget outline there seems to have been some new life breathed into it. We’re talking about Congressman Bill Shuster’s ill-conceived plan to shift large portions of the Federal Aviation Administration out of the government and into a privately managed NGO which would fall largely under the control of the aviation industry labor unions. This is a move which is going to cause additional unneeded turmoil between the White House and the GOP congressional majority. (Washington Post)
President Trump’s support for a plan to lop more than 30,000 Federal Aviation Administration workers from the federal payroll gives fresh momentum to an effort that stalled in Congress last year.
The proposal is included in Trump’s 2018 budget, which cuts funding for the Department of Transportation by 13 percent.
The move would address two themes at the core of White House strategy: contracting the size of the federal workforce and putting a costly federal program in private hands.
Just for a bit of history, it’s worth remembering that this proposal came up quite a while ago but never even made it to a vote on the floor of the House. Rumor had it that Paul Ryan didn’t want to expend any political capital on the project because he knew that there was widespread opposition in the Senate and the plan was essentially considered dead on the vine at that point. When a few supporters kept bringing it up in the media after the last election, polling showed that a solid majority of voters were opposed to the plan.
Still, there were rumors going around in February that Shuster had already pitched the idea to the incoming president and found him receptive to it. I was skeptical at the time, but this seems to be all the confirmation we need. And on some level, you can see how such a plan might be appealing to Donald Trump. On the surface it sounds like yet another bold move to vastly shrink the size of the federal workforce and push necessary work out into the private sector. This is in keeping with the principles which seem to have guided many of Trump’s other decisions thus far.
But like many things in life, this restructuring scheme is far less appealing when you dig into the details. The important work done by air traffic controllers certainly could benefit from a fresh look, and antiquated systems which they rely on need to be updated. But I highly doubt we’re going to accomplish much of that by putting the unions in charge of the process. Also, Trump’s outline indicates that this restructuring would be paid for by additional fees imposed on air travelers and those shipping cargo by air. We live in an era where satisfaction with air travel is pretty much an all-time low. Do you really want to drive up costs in a sector which is already pushing consumers to the limits of their sanity?
Hopefully there remains enough bipartisan opposition in the Senate to keep this proposal off the floor and send it back into retirement. The real shame here would be if a brutal food fight erupted between the White House and Congressional Republicans, draining energy from and driving distractions into the other important work which they need to be getting done.