Apr 16 2002

AVIATION SAFETY AND CAPACITY ISSUES HEARING

Statement of Senator Richard C. Shelby

U.S. Senator Richard C. Shelby (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, today commented on aviation safety and capacity issues:

"Now that responsibility for the security of the aviation system has shifted to the Transportation Security Administration, the FAA must focus on being prepared for the return in demand for air travel."

"The current decline in air traffic presents the FAA with an opportunity to get ahead of future demand by developing a strategic plan for addressing capacity constraints and modifying the modernization effort to accelerate development of the acquisition programs with the greatest potential.

"At the same time, we must remain ever mindful of the need to constrain operational costs and enhance the efficiency of air traffic services delivery. Ultimately, our efficiency in modernizing the National Airspace System and providing air traffic control services translates into making air travel more affordable for all Americans and making our economy that much more competitive.

"Clearly, if the FAA continues along its present, inefficient course, when the traffic returns, so will delays.

"But, it is difficult and unwise to discuss aviation safety or capacity issues without addressing aviation security. While I appreciate the difficulty of creating and staffing a new agency from scratch, that is no excuse for making decisions from behind a closed door or for perceiving that the formulation and disposition of security-related matters are exempt from accountability.

"Time and time again, information from TSA has not been forthcoming and affected stakeholders have not had opportunities to present their cases before decisions are made.

"One of the most immediate issues involves the funding source to pay for the implementation of new security requirements, including in particular the installation of the explosive detection systems. I have been told that until this and other security-related costs can be determined, the FAA will not issue any AIP grants and is holding the funds in abeyance. That's like saying we're not going to pay for cholesterol reducing drugs because we're saving all our money for open-heart surgery.

"I believe that the Department must pursue the critical security improvements and requirements while keeping important capacity and safety projects on track. The construction season in some states will begin soon and unless the funding suspension is lifted, several multi-year projects will be in jeopardy.

"The FAA's acquisition programs, on the other hand, seem to be continuing virtually unaffected by the terrorist attacks of September 11. This is short-sighted. Instead of ignoring changing circumstances, even those brought about by tragedy, the FAA must revalidate the need for various acquisition programs within the context of new security procedures and security requirements.

"This is a call to look at programs like WAAS to confirm that the programmatic solutions the FAA is pursuing are still the right solutions. We really should be constantly revalidating our modernization program and asking the FAA and industry if there are better, safer, and more cost efficient ways of meeting our modernization and security goals.

"I also continue to be concerned that cost increases, schedule delays, and reduced capabilities are the norm with FAA's acquisition programs, not the exception. Furthermore, I am concerned that the FAA is abusing its procurement flexibility.

"At my request, the Inspector General conducted a rigorous analysis of competition in air traffic control contracts and determined that the FAA awarded six of nine large contracts, valued at more than $1.25 billion, on a non-competitive basis.

"The intent of procurement flexibility was to overcome the barriers that can delay an acquisition program from benefitting the flying public and save taxpayer money along the way; instead, it appears that the flexibility is being used for the convenience of program managers. Procurement flexibility was granted in order to accelerate modernization, not to trample on the legitimate expectations of fairness engendered by competition. When the FAA does just that and then doesn't realize any efficiency in program delivery or cost savings, we are getting the worst of all worlds.

"Fiscal year 2003 will be in many ways a pivotal year for the FAA. The AIR-21 authorization act expires, as does the labor agreement with the air traffic controllers union. In anticipation of the reauthorization process, it is my hope that the supporters of firewalls - whether in the Congress or from groups that claim to benefit by them - will make an honest determination of their value and understand their limitations.

"As I have stated before, special budgetary protection effectively establishes a funding ceiling, not just a funding floor, and minimizes our ability to make adjustments due to changing circumstances, such as new security requirements.

"Furthermore, programs with special budgetary protection become a source for funding non-capital priorities, and that is why the funding for the Essential Air Service program is being requested in AIP, which is one of the so-called protected accounts.

"Finally, I want to join Chairman Murray in commending FAA Administrator Jane Garvey for her dedication and leadership over the past five years. While the job certainly has its rewards, it certainly has its challenges - and perhaps more challenges than rewards.

"As this may be your last appearance as FAA Administrator before this subcommittee, Madam Administrator, I would like to get your candid advice for your successor, a sense of what you think you did right, and a sense of what things you might have done differently. Perhaps you could make some comments along those lines during your opening remarks. I believe your sense of service was evident by your decision to continue in your position at the FAA through the end of the term, despite the change of administrations.

"I believe it was just as important that you remained in your position to provide stability to an organization that was rocked by the terrorist attacks of September 11. The FAA is one of those places in government where leadership at the top sustained over a period of time is necessary before real change can be implemented.

"You have provided that leadership and we are seeing some progress now because of some of your initiatives, including Free Flight, Safe Flight, and capacity benchmarks."