Make the FAA fly right

With Congress back to work one area members from both parties can find common ground on is greater oversight of government agencies. One agency in particular that requires increased scrutiny is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Plagued by internal mismanagement and budgeting woes, two damaging Department of Transportation Inspector General reports, and grilling from Congress, the FAA has proposed pulling the plug on its air traffic controller-training program, the Air Traffic Controller Optimum Training Solution (ATCOTS), and starting a new program from scratch. 

At first glance this might sound reasonable, but the FAA seems just to be trying to get Congress off its back, rather than putting in the hard work to solve its serious internal problems. As Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillKoch-backed group targets red-state Dems on tax reform Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open Las Vegas highlights Islamist terrorism is not America's greatest domestic threat MORE (D) -- former chairwoman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight, who has investigated the program since 2011 -- pointed out in response to the FAA’s plan to “recomplete,” the FAA appears to have failed to address adequately deficiencies in management and oversight, which led directly to its current problems.  

The Senate and House Appropriations committees have also recognized the pitfalls of the FAA’s proposal, including language in the most recent spending bill directing the FAA to implement the recommendations in the Inspector General reports before it can even consider proposing an alternative air traffic controller training program. This is a step in the right direction, and Congress must ensure that the FAA follows its instructions.   

The FAA’s logic to scrap the current program, rather than work to address its mismanagement problems, is troubling, even more so because of the timing. The FAA is currently facing a massive shortfall in the number of qualified and trained air traffic controllers needed to monitor our skies and protect the flying public. In response to the air traffic controller strike in the early 1980s, the FAA was forced to hire en masse 15,000 air traffic controllers. These same air traffic controllers will reach the mandatory retirement age over the next decade and replacements are urgently needed.

In fact, key to FAA’s initial justification to create the ATCOTS program in the first place was addressing the looming air traffic controller shortage. However, despite claiming to understand the impending problem, the FAA has failed to follow through with hiring and training air traffic controllers to replace its ranks. It’s obvious that ending the current air traffic controller training program and starting a new one from scratch would only exacerbate the shortage of these important professionals, not to mention the cost to taxpayers.

There is no doubt that there are serious problems at FAA, particularly when it comes to management and oversight of its air traffic controller-training program.  Addressing these issues is critical to monitoring U.S. airspace and ensuring aircraft and passenger safety. But before FAA acts to worsen the air traffic controller shortage, which could paralyze air traffic, punishing our economy and the flying public, Congress must ensure that the FAA gets its own house in order.

Bond served four terms in the Senate, from 1987 to 2011. He is the founder and chairman of Kit Bond Strategies, a global business development and consulting firm.