By Ray Lahood and Randy Babbitt
If Congress does not reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration by midnight next Friday, the U.S. government will have no choice but to stop crucial airport construction projects and halt important research and development benefiting aviation’s future, sending tens of thousands of workers home without pay.
And if you think this sounds like the preview for a movie you have already seen, you are exactly right.
Just a few weeks ago, congressional inaction and stalemate forced a 14-day partial shutdown of the FAA.
Everywhere we look, we are still seeing the consequences and footing the bill. Some construction projects experienced difficulty getting back online after the interruption. Others are costing taxpayers significantly more than they otherwise would have.
In Oakland, Calif., rental expenses for scaffolding, trailers and other worksite equipment mounted by tens of thousands of dollars as lost work days added up. In Traverse City, Mich., the price of building a new control tower increased by at least $75,000 because the contractor had to remove a crane and then return it to the airport.
Shuttered construction projects in New York, Pennsylvania, Alaska and other states lost precious time during the construction season’s best weather days. The FAA also was forced to delay its selection of the firm that will oversee construction of Cleveland’s new tower, again limiting time for construction before winter sets in.
All told, the last FAA shutdown resulted in 250 projects suspended, tens of thousands of construction jobs jeopardized, almost 4,000 dedicated FAA employees furloughed, and $400 million in ticket-tax revenue uncollected.
Even worse, when Congress finally got its act together, it only extended the FAA’s authorization for little more than a month. It found a way to kick the can down the road by 42 days 33 of which it spent on vacation.
Now that Congress is back, it must take care of business and pass a clean extension of FAA programs.
Today, our unemployment rate sits at 9.1 percent. In addition to these 14 million unemployed Americans, many more are struggling to make ends meet as they work fewer hours for less pay. In light of this harsh reality, congressional paralysis would be another devastating blow to our economy.
In a democracy, we each have a responsibility to engage in robust debate over sometimes contentious issues. But we also have an obligation to compromise before political brinksmanship hurts the very people whom we have taken an oath to serve.
There is no good argument for postponing long-needed airport modernization projects – nor for laying off even more American workers at a moment when so many families are feeling the sting of hardship. Now is the time for action.
Ray LaHood is secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and Randy Babbitt is administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. They wrote this for McClatchy-Tribune.