Current Legislative Issues

Overview: The NATCA Government Affairs Department serves our air traffic controller and aviation specialist membership by working to influence U.S. aviation policy. We do that by educating elected officials on aviation safety matters, as well as other policy issues impacting our membership at the federal, state, and local levels.

In general, the Government Affairs Department lobbies the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Executive Branch (the White House and Administration) on aviation policy issues. We also lead the political program that works to increase NATCA’s visibility and influence. We collaborate with others in the aviation industry and with other labor unions. We also serve as a subject-matter expert in aviation, writing white papers and working with others to conduct research on air traffic control issues.

The following are the major Congressional issues NATCA is working on:

•    Sequestration: Sequestration is a process that automatically cuts the federal budget across most federal departments and agencies. Congress initially included the threat of sequestration in the Budget Control Act of 2011 as a way to encourage compromise on deficit reduction efforts. Congress was unable to agree on a budget by the deadline set in the Budget Control Act, so mandatory budget cuts were scheduled to go into effect on January 2, 2013.

In March 2013, sequestration cuts forced the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which funds the National Airspace System (NAS), to cut a total of $492.9 million from its Operations budget, which pays the air traffic controller workforce. This mandatory cut made it necessary for the FAA to furlough air traffic controllers, which led to one week of severe air traffic delays. As a result of NATCA’s work with lawmakers and allies, Congress passed a law that ended furloughs for FAA employees. However, this law was only valid through the end of September 2013, and after two years of postponed cuts, sequestration is now again in play for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. In addition to the furloughs and flight delays, sequestration also forced the FAA to consider closing low-volume towers. Additionally, the FAA Academy was closed for most of 2013, meaning it was unable to hire new trainees. This hiring freeze worsened an already critical air traffic control staffing situation.

If sequestration cuts continue for FY16, all indications are that the budget cuts to the FAA will be much higher than the proposed cuts in 2013. NATCA has been working with Congress, the Administration, and policy allies reminding all that the FAA must be properly funded in order to maintain the safety and efficiency of our airspace.

•    FAA Reauthorization and Stable Funding: NATCA is heavily focused on working with Congress to pass new FAA Reauthorization legislation. The current authorization, enacted in 2012, is set to expire at the end of September 2015. In the recent past, Congress has relied on short-term extensions instead of passing comprehensive reauthorizing legislation – prior to February 2012, when the last reauthorization was signed, the FAA went without long-term authorization for five years as Congress passed 23 extensions. This year, many in Congress are looking to use the FAA Reauthorization as a platform for finding ways to completely reform the FAA structure.

For NATCA, it is a priority that we use this legislation to ensure that the FAA receives a stable, predictable funding stream. NATCA seeks a funding system that is predictable and allows for hiring, training, modernizing, and infrastructure improvements, not one that burdens the NAS with furloughs, staffing shortfalls, tower closures, and aging equipment and buildings. All of NATCA is working on this in order to protect our membership and the system.

More information, resources:
     NATCA President Paul Rinaldi's April 20, 2015 speech to Aero Club of Washington;
     Rinaldi's March 24, 2015 testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Subcommittee on Aviation (FAA Reauthorization hearing)

•    Federal Government Budget: Congress funds the federal government in one-year increments through funding bills that have been held up by partisan debates in the past few years. In October 2013, the U.S. Congress failed to pass a funding bill and the government shut down for sixteen days. Congress finally passed a continuing resolution to fund the government at its current level through January 2014 and then passed an “omnibus” spending bill for FY14. FY15 was partially funded by another continuing resolution that expired on December 11, 2014. The FAA cannot continue to increase the safety and efficiency of our airspace if they cannot depend on a stable funding stream. NATCA’s goal is to return to regular order and pass annual budgets and appropriations bills without resorting to short term funding legislation prevents the FAA from being able to make and carry out long term projects. NATCA will continue to work closely with Congress on the proper funding of the FAA.

•    Attack on Federal Employees and Unions: In recent years, Congress has been proposing legislation that would harm federal employees by increasing the amount they pay into their retirement funds, and increasing health care contributions. This follows a trend in states across the country, where protections guaranteeing collective bargaining rights are being eroded for public employees. This year, that trend in Congress has continued, as there have already been calls for significant increases to federal employee retirement contributions, changes to the calculations, reduced benefits for those already retired, as well as proposed hiring freezes and pay cuts.