Two of Congress's most important duties are oversight of federal programs and working in a way that provides a maximum of transparency. The legislative branch badly failed at both of these duties last month when it sent a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for six months to President Obama for his signature. Don't be surprised if this is the first you are hearing about it; that is just what some in Congress wanted. An important debate on reforming aviation in the United States was avoided by Congress in the process.
On Sept. 28, the House reauthorized the FAA for six months by voice vote, avoiding a recorded vote. The next day, the Senate pass the House reauthorization by unanimous consent, a procedure that also avoids a recorded vote. Obama signed it into law shortly after Congress sent the bill to his desk. Both chambers of Congress made sure that no representative or senator was put on record to reauthorize a federal entity that is, according to the Department of Transportation, "the principal federal agency responsible for providing the safest and most efficient aerospace system in the world. Since 1958, FAA has regulated and overseen all aspects of civil aviation in the United States, proudly running the largest and safest air traffic control system in the world, and ensuring the safety of the traveling public."
The American people deserve better than to have major federal entities reauthorized in this manner. A massive bureaucracy that is responsible for the safety of the flying public shouldn't be funded by Congress with no debate on floor of the House or the Senate. The legislation didn't even have hearings in the House or Senate. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee had been planning to roll out a proper reauthorization bill through regular order, but House leadership decided to stymie the committee's efforts.
The committee had been rumored to be considering legislation that would "privatize large portions of the nation's air traffic control system," as noted in The Hill. This is an exciting, transformational reform of the way the federal government does business in the area of aviation. As the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Bill ShusterWilliam (Bill) Franklin ShusterLobbying firm cuts ties to Trent Lott amid national anti-racism protests Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR MORE (R-Pa.), had explained, user fees would fund the new corporation charged with air traffic control, which would have a federal charter. This represents a substantive and conservative change in the way the federal government approaches aviation in the United States.
That debate was put on hold for more of the same reauthorization-without-debate. This isn't managing the legislative agenda; this is leadership being managed by it. If Republicans are going to reform the way the federal bureaucracy works, they will have to be bold in allowing debate on new ideas and efficient in managing the calendar to make sure the time is available to have debate. Transformation doesn't come about through voice votes and unanimous consent. Keeping the lights on isn't governing; it's managing.
Congress should be doing more than that. As noted in Politico prior to the FAA reauthorization vote taking place, "don't blink, because this one is now expected to be quick and quiet." Propelling the status quo forward usually is "quick and quiet." It also keeps new ideas from moving forward, and results in less transparent lawmaking. Taxpayer money should not be committed in a quick and quiet way.
Congress should stop passing massive reauthorization measures without debate or with truncated debate. It should instead take on tough but needed reforms, and manage the calendar to make sure time for thoughtful debate is scheduled.
Siefring is president of Hilltop Advocacy, LLC, and a former Republican House staffer. His views and opinions are his own. Follow him on Twitter @NeilSiefring.