The Safety Hazards of a Furloughed FAA

FAA safety inspectors are still on the job, but working without pay

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We already know that Congress's failure to end the two week-long partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration is an expensive non-action (it deprives federal coffers of an estimated $1 billion in uncollected ticket taxes). But it could could also threaten the safety of U.S. airlines, says former FAA chief of staff Michael Goldfarb in an interview on CNN last night. "It's incredible that this agency is being held hostage to this kind of ideological bickering at this stage." The current transportation secretary Ray LaHood, however, disagrees. “No safety issues will be compromised,” he told The New York Times during a conference call. “Flying is safe. Air traffic controllers are guiding airplanes. Safety inspectors are on duty and are doing their job. No one needs to worry about safety.” So why the disagreement? Here's how the FAA is being slimmed down while the House and Senate begin their August recess.

4,000 FAA employees are on furlough, reports Kellie Lunney at Government Executive: "Air traffic controllers are not part of the furlough, but many employees are, including engineering and electronics technicians, computer and logistics specialists, and support staff, among other workers."

A strain on safety inspectors 40 safety inspectors were exempted from the furlough because they were deemed essential but their lives are a lot less easier following the July 22 furloughs as they must work without pay and incur other costs. "Inspectors still are on the job but are paying travel and work-related expenses out of their own pockets," writes Emily Long at Government Executive. "Furloughed FAA employees are not guaranteed back pay once they return to work." In a separate article, Long details how important their jobs are: "They travel to sites around the country to inspect compliance with safety regulations, oversee construction safety plans, ensure corrective action is taken if safety discrepancies exist and monitor emergency situations, such as natural disasters and aircraft accidents." The New York Times adds that they also "investigate runway incursions" and "support runway safety action teams."

This is a safety issue, says Former FAA chief of staff Michael Goldfarb in an interview last night on CNN:

It is a safety issue. You know it's interesting, we say 'well the essential employees, the air traffic controllers, they're on the their jobs,' but that's a term of art. Essential includes technicians and people who go to the air fields and have to inspect runways and lighting. Most of our accidents now are runway incursions and are on the air field... We always say that in accidents, it's a combination of things from little runway maintenance to large concerns of how planes are controlled.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.