A small but disturbing bit of news showed up at Politico this week (subscription link) regarding the Federal Aviation Commission. Chris Brown is returning to the FAA as Assistant Administrator of Government and Industry Affairs. At first glance that probably looks like a not terribly newsworthy item, sounding like something of a back bench position and given the fact that Brown has an obvious background for the work, having served the Aviation subcommittee. But it’s the rest of his background and how his position relates to Bill Shuster’s plans to “privatize” the nation’s air traffic controllers by basically putting the unions in charge which makes it troubling.
A House Transportation Committee staffer is returning to the FAA, even as Rep. Bill Shuster embarks on his latest effort to overhaul air traffic control operations.
Chris Brown, who most recently served as the panel’s oversight counsel and point person for the DOT transition team, will leave the Hill this week to become assistant administrator of government and industry affairs at FAA, according to a farewell email obtained by POLITICO. It’s a familiar role for Brown — he also held the job during the George W. Bush administration.
Brown previously served as staff director for the Aviation subcommittee, and before that was vice president for legislative and regulatory policy at Airlines for America.
It’s Brown’s former position with and close ties to Airlines for America which really twists the knife in this appointment. They’re the industry lobbying group which represents the interests of the major airlines and their unions. Despite the fact that polling shows a solid majority of voters oppose Shuster’s plans to revamp the air traffic controllers, proponents of the plan seem to have gained President Trump’s ear on the subject. The scheme even showed up in the President’s initial budget proposal.
The first time this proposal was floated it essentially died on the vine. There wasn’t support for it in the Senate to any measurable extent and there weren’t even enough Democrats on board to allow it pick up a head of steam. (And that’s a real shocker considering you rarely see them going against the interests of the unions.) But this plan doesn’t seem to want to die, largely because of Shuster’s dedication to it. (And I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that he’s dating one of the top lobbyists for Airlines for America while insisting that “she doesn’t lobby his office.”)
I’m not opposed to the general idea of privatizing any aspects of the government if it’s done in a rational fashion. But if we’re going to look at doing it with the air traffic controllers it should be handled in a way which doesn’t essentially put the unions and the CEOs of the airlines in charge of it. That’s no way to incentivize excellence in performance while scaling back costs. Moving Brown into the position he’s being looked at for is just one more sign that this scheme may be gaining support from the White House. And it is most assuredly not an example of draining the swamp.