Campaign Promises

Other/Miscellaneous -> Independent Organizations -> FAA

ItemIndependent Organizations
IO-29 The Promise: "Will work with Congress to modernize the nation's air traffic control system."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Strengthening America's Transportation Infrastructure" dated 10/09/08.
Status:President Obama's FY2010 budget outline proposed $800M for a 'Next Generation (NextGen) Air Transportation System', a long-term, 24-satellite constellation to improve the ground-based Air Traffic Control (ATC) system by CY2025. The actual enacted amount for NextGen was $867.7M in FY2010, a 24% increase over FY2009.

Also in CY2009, a Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General report stated that the FAA's computer systems remained vulnerable to cyber attacks by criminals, terrorists, or other nations. The FAA's position on this matter was that it had accorded priority to upgrading critical ATC systems, while ignoring the improvements needed in those systems' intrusion detection capabilities. This left vulnerable to attack the operational systems that control communications, surveillance and flight information used to keep flying aircraft at safe distances from one another.

On 10/20/10, the FAA announced it had awarded TASC a 10-year $828M contract to help launch the NextGen network by 2025. Under this initial progress initiative, TASC was tasked to work on advanced systems engineering, investment and business case analysis, planning and forecasting, and business, financial and information management support services.

The President's FY2011 budget proposal included an increase to $1.14B (from the FY2010 enacted amount of $867.7M) for NextGen. The government's NextGen Air Transportation System initiatives excluded funding to equip commercial aircraft with the new onboard systems they will need to interface with the new ground-based air traffic control stations.

On 08/01/10, President Obama signed into law the 15th extension of the last multi-year aviation bill that expired in 09/07. This stopgap measure remained in effect until 09/30/10. By that date, it was anticipated that both houses of Congress would agree on the contents of the $34.5B FAA Reauthorization Bill of 2009 (H.R. 915) so that the $22B needed to upgrade the air traffic control system's WWII-era radars with the NextGen satellite-based system at the nation's busiest airports by CY2014 could be appropriated. This didn't happen and H.R. 915 expired with the 111th Congress at the end of CY2010.

Since then, major airlines reportedly lost confidence in the FAA's ability to field NextGen GPS-based capabilities in the relatively near term. According to a DOT Inspector General report of mid-05/11, the FAA was found deficient in its inability to produce an "integrated master schedule" for NextGen. The report further specified some FAA NextGen design decisions that threatened the entire program's cost (estimated at between $29B and $42B for equipment, software and training by CY2025) and schedule targets.

On 02/03/11, the FAA announced that it would spend $4.2M to equip JetBlue Airways aircraft with advanced onboard systems to prove to other carriers that such investments on their part would accrue significant savings in the long term. As of end-CY2012, the JetBlue initiative has proven that the adaptation of NextGen technologies results in fuel savings, faster approaches, more direct routes, and more system capacity.

After 23 funding extensions, the Senate finally approved the $63B FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act (H.R. 658) on 02/06/12. President Obama signed this bill and it became law on 02/14/12. One of the key tenets of this bill is the annual authorization of $3B for the development of the NextGen ATC system.

This promise was fulfilled.
IO-30 The Promise: "...will direct the new FAA Administrator to work cooperatively with the frontline air traffic controllers to restore morale and improve working conditions and operations at the agency."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Strengthening America's Transportation Infrastructure" dated 10/09/08.
Status:The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on 11/30/09 (GAO-10-89) addressing the continuing morale problem at the FAA. In that report, the FAA was ranked 214 out of 216 best places to work in the federal government based on a study published by the Partnership for Public Service and American University's Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation.

According to the GAO report, although the FAA had created "a performance-based culture that could improve employees' workplace satisfaction," only 55% of the FAA's workforce was under performance-based compensation and there was no accountability for the plan's success. Part of the issue was that a contract between the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and the FAA resulted in the removal of NATCA's 16,000 members (45% of the FAA's workforce) from the performance-based pay system -- granting them automatic pay raises.

According to Congressman John Mica (R-FL), the morale problem was partially attributed to the fact that "Congress has failed to reauthorize the FAA for the longest period in decades...With no reauthorization, and a significant lack of fairness in its personnel system, don't expect morale at FAA to improve." President Obama signed the 17th 3-month extension of the FAA on 12/30/10.

Meanwhile, the 111th Congress failed to pass an FAA reauthorization bill, greatly jeopardizing policy, long term acquisition planning,safety projects and Air Traffic Control (ATC) modernization initiatives. During the first half of its term, the 112th Congress didn't do any better. As a consequence, the FAA's funding ran out on 07/23/11 (ATCs were not affected). 4,000 FAA employees and about 24,000 airport construction workers were furloughed and the FAA lost about $160M per week from fuel tax and ticket revenues. Consequently, morale at the FAA continued to decline more than three years into President Obama's first term in office. On 08/05/11, the Senate passed legislation by unanimous consent to approve a 21st extension to the FAA Reauthorization Bill for a period of six weeks, thereby permitting FAA and airport construction workers to return to work. A 22nd and 23rd extension through 02/17/12 followed.

Finally on 02/06/12, the Senate approved the $63B FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act (H.R. 658) (introduced by Congressman Mica on 02/11/11). President Obama signed this bill and it became law on 02/14/12. Key features of this legislation bore directly on FAA and specifically on ATC morale and working conditions such as Title II (NextGen Air Transportation System and Air Traffic Control Modernization) as well as Title VI (FAA Employees and Organization). Sections within these titles addressed FAA and ATC training and scheduling as well as addressing facility conditions. Consequently, morale and working conditions slowly began to improve within the FAA in general and within the ATC corps in particular.

This promise was fulfilled.