The next time you travel in the air or near coastal waters, you can thank the professionals in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Coast Guard for helping ensure your safety. Every single day, FAA employees review aircraft and component designs to ensure their airworthiness; air traffic controllers guide our aircraft through the skies; and hazardous materials inspectors ensure that cargo placed on those aircraft are not endangering passenger safety. Likewise, the U. S. Coast Guard protects us when we purchase a recreational boat or travel on a cruise ship. The service is on the scene when an oil spill or marine accident puts coastal lands and properties at risk. They interdict cargoes of illicit drugs headed toward the United States. And their aircraft and surface ships pluck us from the waters, often at great risk to their aircrews, when disaster strikes.
These agencies are well respected by America’s taxpayers, because they provide critical services to all of us. But their operations have been negatively impacted by the ongoing push to cut budgets. The air traffic controller and safety workforces are already lower than two years ago. And if additional cuts occur, they will be reduced even more, despite an expanding worldwide aviation industry that needs support.
To protect its operations, the FAA could decide to reduce its capital investments – especially in the long overdue Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) modernization program. But with an aging infrastructure, and sequestration still on the books for the six fiscal years after FY 2015, delaying the replacement of obsolete and faltering equipment is not a viable, long-term solution. The Government Accountability Office recently reported that unscheduled outages of FAA equipment increased by 45 percent between 2001 and 2012, and said “many of the existing systems that have to be maintained for many years face growing agency concerns about parts availability and technology obsolescence.” The agency cannot save itself by eating its seed corn.
In the Coast Guard, investments in new aircraft and ships are needed to replace an aging fleet. Yet last year, the service had to cut out $240 million, including $84 million from its capital program, due to the sequester. Coast Guard officials have testified that operating hours were reduced 25 percent last year, affecting activities such as harbor patrols, security boarding, and drug interdiction. Older assets continue to be pressed into service, while contracts for replacement equipment are delayed. As a result, the Coast Guard is meeting less than half of its approved performance requirements.
Supporters of budget austerity need to reduce their expectations the next time a distress call comes into a Coast Guard station, an air traffic controller has trouble handling the traffic in his sector, or an aircraft manufacturer misses an opportunity to get cutting-edge designs into the marketplace. AIA urges the Congress to address these funding shortfalls before devastating service cuts to these critical federal agencies become the new norm.