Dems accuse Transportation Dept. of ‘improper lobbying’ on air traffic overhaul

Dems accuse Transportation Dept. of ‘improper lobbying’ on air traffic overhaul

House Democrats are accusing the Department of Transportation (DOT) of improperly lobbying Congress and other organizations to support a legislative effort to overhaul air traffic control.

The minority members on the House Transportation and Infrastructure and the Appropriations committees asked the DOT’s inspector general on Wednesday to investigate whether agency officials violated federal laws in urging support for a bill that would privatize the country’s air navigation system.
In a letter to the watchdog organization, the lawmakers claim that “at least four DOT political appointees” have contacted lawmakers and aviation or airport association representatives to build support for the bill, either through e-mails, written materials or phone calls.

The lawmakers pointed to a memo emailed to Hill staff by Chris Brown, the associate administrator for government and industry affairs at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), that said “it’s time for the U.S. to join most of the industrialized world and separate its ATC system from the agency that also provides safety oversight.”

Brown previously worked for United Airlines and Airlines for America, which have long been pushing for the spinoff plan.

The letter also highlighted a DOT website outlining the proposal and included a report from The Hill that the White House sent a high-ranking official to Capitol Hill to woo skeptical Republicans on the plan.

Democrats argue that this violates federal anti-lobbying laws, which prohibit federal dollars from being used to “pay for any personal service, advertisement, telegram, telephone, letter … intended or designed to influence in any manner a Member of Congress, a jurisdiction, or any official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation.”

“Even when viewed in the light most favorable, these e-mails, phone calls, and other activities are highly irregular, at best,” the Democrats wrote.

A DOT spokeswoman said all information was shared in compliance with federal rules.

“The Department has shared factual information in support of the President’s Air Traffic Control Reform initiative with members of Congress and other stakeholders in response to questions and issues that have frequently come up," the DOT said. "This has been done in compliance with the Anti-Lobbying Act."

The Democratic letter comes as the battle over air traffic control heats up on both sides.

Supporters of the spinoff model, who have been working hard to educate members and the public about the proposal, say that opponents are just desperately scrambling to find new lines of attack against the idea.

The legislation has so far remained stalled in the House, while the Senate has decided not to include the proposal in a long-term aviation bill.