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President Bush Slaps Air Traffic Controllers in the Face by Stripping Them of "Inherently Governmental" Designation - (6/7/2002)

WASHINGTON - The National Air Traffic Controllers Association reacted with shock and disgust to Tuesday's presidential Executive Order - released unannounced late Thursday - stripping air traffic control of its "inherently governmental" designation.

"This action is a slap in the face to the men and women who worked President Bush's aircraft as he flew from Florida to Louisiana to Nebraska on September 11th," said John Carr, president of the controllers' union. "If this nation's air traffic controllers didn't prove their mettle on that fateful morning, when they landed 700 aircraft in five minutes and almost 5,000 in two hours, then I suppose there's nothing we can do to prove ourselves critical to this nation's safety and security."

Especially galling and outrageous to NATCA is that the executive order comes just 17 days after the Deputy Secretary of Transportation told a nationally-televised gathering of several hundred controllers in Washington D.C., "Understand how truly impressed this country is with the work you do. On that day (Sept. 11), your work inspired the nation. … The president understands how important your job is, how important your work is. He supports you, he's been praising you."

The "inherently governmental" language, which originated in an Office of Management and Budget circular on the contracting out of government positions, found its way into a Clinton Executive Order on Dec. 7, 2000 mandating the formation of a performance based organization for air traffic control, headed by a chief operating officer. The designation is reserved for those positions that are, "so intrinsically linked with the public interest as to mandate their performance by federal employees."

Carr noted, "The president hasn't found a new (Federal Aviation Administration) administrator, he hasn't found a new deputy administrator, he hasn't found a COO, he hasn't formed the PBO, he hasn't filled the labor seat on the Management Advisory Council, and he hasn't implemented a single recommendation from the aviation subcommittee of the MAC. In short, with all the unfinished aviation safety business yet before us I find it bizarre that the president's people found the time to demonize air traffic controllers."

The executive order "does nothing to improve the safety or security of our National Airspace System and seems designed only to pacify the pro-privatization proponents in his own administration," Carr stated. "It's hard to believe that on the same night the president proposed putting all our nation’s security functions under one governmental roof in order to streamline activities, increase efficiency and improve our personal safety, he is tearing at the very fabric of our aviation infrastructure by removing controllers’ inherently governmental designation."

Carr also noted that baggage screeners had recently been federalized by Congress in a bill the president signed. Carr quipped, "Well, at least your underwear's safety is an inherently governmental function."

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