Price Opening Statement at T-HUD Hearing with FAA Administrator Huerta
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’d like to join you in welcoming Federal Aviation Administrator Michael Huerta to the Subcommittee.
The fiscal year 2016 budget requests a total of $15.836 billion for the programs and activities of the FAA, which is only a slight increase of $118.6 million above the 2015 enacted level and is approximately level with where the Agency’s funding has been for the last few years. We were able to provide a funding boost of about $1 billion under the 2009 Recovery Act, but otherwise, I am concerned that we are not adequately addressing our infrastructure needs. I’d also like to put this in a broader context of the overall budget environment.
The important mission of the FAA is a prime example of why a broad budget agreement is needed to escape the stranglehold of sequestration. Two years ago, when sequestration was triggered during FY 2013, the full impact on the FAA would have required the Administrator to cut more than $630 million to agency programs and activities. The initial effects were dramatic. Each and every employee at the FAA was facing as many as 11 days of furlough.
More than 150 contract towers, which provide air traffic service to small airports across the country, were on the verge of shutdown. Flight delays and cancellations rippled across the nation, frustrating travelers – including Members of Congress that rely on air travel to get quickly between their home districts and D.C. – and impacting the normal flow of air commerce.
After several days, the Congress did take action to provide some relief for the FAA. We passed legislation allowing $253 million to be transferred from carryover funds in the airport grant program to be used to restore the contract tower program and eliminate employee furloughs. While the measure provided some relief to FAA’s operations, we cannot repeatedly rob Peter to pay Paul. The slippery slope of shifting capital funds to fill agency operational holes has lingering impacts. For example, decreasing capital funds will only cause the delay and deferral of projects that are necessary for the modernization of our air traffic control system and for much needed safety and capacity investments at our nation’s airports.
Fortunately, the Murray-Ryan budget agreement allowed the FAA and many other agencies to avoid the most egregious impacts of sequestration. I hope my colleagues remain mindful of what happened in FY 2013 as we move forward this year with the specter of sequestration once again looming.
Now, let me return to the focus of the day: FAA’s funding needs for FY 2016. Safety oversight and enforcement is a critical priority, and I am pleased to see this is reflected in your budget.
In regards to operations, your budget request includes increased staffing for a variety of aviation safety efforts. The requested increase of nearly $21.3 million will enable you to hire additional inspection and certification staff to oversee the introduction of new aircraft and avionics and to provide additional safety oversight of air operators, repair stations and manufacturers. The budget also includes much needed resources to help the agency meet the emerging challenges of the integration of unmanned aircraft systems.
There are other emerging challenges for the agency to address. For example, in the aftermath of the fire at the Chicago En Route Center, FAA conducted a comprehensive review of the agency’s facility and personnel security protocols. The requested 13.8 percent increase for FAA’s Security and Hazardous Materials office will help accelerate security procedures and personal identification verification systems necessary to protect the access to critical FAA facilities and systems.
In addition, as the FAA focuses on its important safety mission, I hope to remain engaged in your efforts to improve the tracking of passenger air flights and recovery of downed planes and flight data.
Finally, the FAA must continue to advance NextGen, which will transition air traffic control from a ground-based to a satellite-based navigation system. Towards this end, the budget includes a total of $956 million for NextGen programs, including the development of improved data communication systems between controllers and aircraft as well as the modernization of facility automation systems.
I am encouraged that the FAA has made good progress in deploying the ground-station network that is needed for more accurate aircraft surveillance (ADS-B). However, I recognize that the true benefits of these improved surveillance technologies won’t be realized until commercial and general aviation aircraft are equipped with the appropriate avionics, and hope we can work on this together.
Mr. Huerta, I look forward to discussing a number of these items with you this morning and to work with you to ensure that our aviation system remains a global leader in the years to come.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.