Protracted squabbling in Washington over the U.S. budget means aviators should expect no Christmas goose come the holidays.
The Democrats in control and the Republican minority in Congress can’t agree on much, including the appropriations and authorization legislation needed to fund the operation of federal agencies like the FAA. The federal fiscal year started Oct. 1, but by mid-November there was still no Transportation Dept. budget (which covers the FAA) ready for Congress’ approval and President Bush’s signature into law. Transportation agencies were far from alone in that predicament.
It was not until Nov. 13 that the president signed a $460 billion Defense Dept. budget bill for Fiscal 2008. Agencies without an approved budget legally can’t do anything that costs money, so Congress dodges the bullet by passing continuing resolutions. They allow agencies to spend at the previous fiscal year’s level.
That freezes an agency’s budget at last year’s level. But by law and by contract, the agency’s payroll creeps up, as does the cost of maintaining its buildings and equipment. If employees retired, replacements can’t be hired. Agency managers have to find money for daily operations somewhere; they cut back on things like supplies and travel. So if you think you have to wait too long now for approval of a supplemental type certificate or a flight plan, expect to wait longer, because the FAA worker on the other end of the line is quite literally doing more (or at least the same) with less.
On top of that, Congress is considering pulling money from the Aviation Trust Fund, long considered an untouchable reserve for airport and airways improvements, to offset tax cuts. Oh, the holidays in Washington!