(Senate - April 25, 2013)

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[Pages S2984-S2985]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                       EXCESSIVE GOVERNMENT WASTE

  Mrs. FISCHER. Mr. President, a recent Washington Post headline has 
grabbed national attention. It reads: U.S. Government spends $890,000 
on nothing.
  It almost sounds like a bad joke, but this is no laughing matter. The 
Post reported:

       This year, the government will spend at least $890,000 on 
     service fees for bank accounts that are empty. At last count, 
     Uncle Sam has 13,712 such accounts with a balance of zero.

  The American people are no strangers to reports of excessive 
government waste, from robotic squirrel research to Moroccan pottery 
classes. This latest example, however, comes at a particularly 
frustrating moment, as thousands of Americans are stuck waiting for 
hours in airport terminals with delayed fights--the result of the 
Federal Aviation Administration's decision to furlough thousands of air 
traffic controllers due to sequestration. The Post astutely noted:

       If you are a federal worker on furlough this week--or an 
     airline passenger delayed by federal furloughs--you might 
     want to save your blood pressure and go read another story.

  Federal law requires the government to reduce overall spending by 5 
percent in each agency, totaling $85 billion for the remainder of this 
fiscal year. While the $890,000 currently spent on unused bank accounts 
may seem like a drop in the bucket, it nonetheless proves there is 
plenty of fat to trim in Federal spending. We can do that, and we can 
do it without directly impacting essential government services and 
  The same holds true with the FAA. Similar to many Nebraskans, I 
remain concerned about the Federal Government's failure to effectively 
target these required but necessary budget cuts. Of particular concern 
is the FAA's complete mismanagement of the cost reductions which has 
resulted in unnecessary travel delays all across this Nation. Since 
1996, the FAA's operations budget has grown by an astounding 109 
percent, from $4.6 billion to $9.7 billion. A mere 5-percent budget cut 
would simply return the FAA to the 2010 funding levels.
  Despite 2 years to prepare for these budget reductions, the FAA chose 
to provide Congress and the airline industry with less than 1 week's 
notice regarding its plans to furlough its workforce, showing complete 
disregard for the traveling public.
  The FAA has insisted on targeting air traffic controllers, rather 
than solely focusing on lower priority personnel to ensure morale. I 
wonder if anyone has checked in with the folks waiting in airport 
terminals--and waiting in those terminals for hours--to determine their 
current morale. The FAA has 47,000 employees, of which 15,500 are air 
traffic controllers. While I appreciate the hard work of many Federal 
employees, air traffic controllers should be the last ones on the FAA's 
budgetary chopping block.
  Rather than selectively ratcheting up the pain of Federal budget cuts 
on American citizens with these long delays, the FAA should, instead, 
focus on cutting its $500 million consultant slush fund or the $325 
million spent on supplies and travel.
  For months, the administration has argued it lacks the flexibility to 
target the required budget cuts in a smart, responsible manner--in a 
smart, responsible manner--that mitigates the impact on the public. To 
that end, I have cosponsored several legislative efforts to provide 
this administration with the tools to ensure that essential Federal 
employees continue to provide these vital services, such as our control 
tower operations.
  Most recently I cosponsored the Essential Services Act, which would 
simply require each Federal agency head to identify and exempt 
essential employees from any furlough policies by using the same 
standards that were created by multiple administrations during previous 
government shutdowns.
  Unfortunately, the President and my Democratic colleagues continue to 
oppose any of these measures to both achieve needed savings without tax 
hikes and preserve our important government functions.
  Notably, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta recently testified at a 
Senate hearing that he does, in fact, have discretion to prioritize the 
spending cuts. If that is true, then it appears the FAA is more 
interested in scoring political points rather than cutting its $2.7 
billion in nonpersonnel operation costs.
  I am very disappointed in Administrator Huerta's lack of 
forthrightness with this Congress. When asked at the same hearing about 
the FAA's possible furlough strategy, Mr. Huerta provided only general 
statements. Hours later, FAA officials provided detailed furlough plans 
to airlines--a disturbing move to hide the ball from lawmakers, who 
were left without the opportunity to mitigate the impact of these 
extensive furloughs.
  I stand here ready to work with the President and any of my 
colleagues who are committed to making these budget cuts in a smart, 
effective, and efficient manner, a manner that preserves essential 
government services.
  I thank the chair. I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Maine.
  Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, I rise today to discuss a serious problem 
confronting the American traveling public and our economy, and later 
today I will be introducing a bill to remedy this problem. I am very 
pleased to be joined by several of my Senate colleagues as original 
cosponsors, including Senator Mark Udall, Senator Risch, Senator 
Roberts, Senator Isakson, and I expect several more cosponsors to join 
in this effort over the course of the day.
  As the ranking member of the Transportation Appropriations 
Subcommittee, I have followed the issue of FAA delays and furloughs 
very closely. In fact, the first thing this morning I met with 
Secretary of Transportation LaHood and FAA Administrator Huerta to 
discuss this problem and my proposed solution.
  The challenges the FAA faces this fiscal year are daunting. Not only 
is the agency operating under a continuing resolution but sequestration 
compounds the problem. It is important that sequestration be 
implemented in a way that ensures safety and minimizes the impact on 
travelers as well as on jobs in the hospitality and airline industries.
  The FAA recently announced its plans to achieve its sequestration 
savings by implementing furloughs of air traffic controllers, closing 
contract towers, eliminating midnight services, among other cuts.
  I personally believe the FAA had other choices and could have avoided 
many of these disastrous outcomes, but there is no doubt that personnel 
does make up a great deal of the agency's budget and that some 
furloughs undoubtedly would have been necessary. Whether it was 
necessary for the FAA to concentrate so many of the cuts in the area of 
air traffic controllers is an entirely different question. In any 
event, my bill would restore funding for these essential programs and 
would do so--and this is an important point--without increasing the 
funding for the FAA or for the Department of Transportation.
  Let me give a little bit of background. The FAA began furloughing 
47,000 employees this past Sunday, including nearly 15,000 air traffic 
controllers. This is essentially 10 percent of its

[[Page S2985]]

workforce, which equates to one furlough day per biweekly pay period 
for approximately 11 days through September 30. The FAA also plans to 
eliminate midnight shifts in more than 70 control towers across the 
country and will close more than 149 air traffic control towers at 
airports with fewer than 150,000 flight operations or 10,000 commercial 
operations per year. In addition, the agency is slated to reduce 
preventive maintenance and equipment provisioning and support for all 
National Airspace System equipment.

  These are simply irresponsible cuts that have real and detrimental 
impacts on the traveling public, on the airline industry, on the 
hospitality industry, and they will cause widespread delays to the air 
transportation system. It is estimated as many as 6,700 flights could 
be delayed each day, more than double the worst day of flight delays 
last year.
  In fact, there is one estimate that just since Sunday, 5,800 delays 
have occurred because of the actions taken by the FAA. This reduction 
in staffing of air traffic controllers has been the primary cause of at 
least one out of every three delays since the furloughs began, and the 
problem is only going to get worse.
  To give an example: On Monday there were 2,660 delayed flights, of 
which 1,200 were due to the furloughs. What is even more troubling is 
this is only the beginning, and soon we will be approaching the peak 
travel season. Some airports may experience delays of up to 3 hours 
during peak travel times, and we know these delays cause a ripple 
throughout the entire system. What is going to happen is that air 
travelers are going to decide to cancel trips and will not even bother 
to go on brief vacations because they don't want to spend 3 hours 
sitting on the tarmac waiting for their flights to take off.
  The FAA acknowledges these service reductions will adversely affect 
commercial, corporate, and general aviation operators. The agency 
expects that as the airlines estimate the potential impact of the 
furloughs, they will be forced to change their schedules, cancel 
flights, and lay off employees. At a time when our economy is already 
fragile, that is the last thing we need to happen.
  The legislation I am introducing with several of my colleagues, 
including Senator Mark Udall, is called the Reducing Flight Delays Act 
of 2013. Here is how it would work: It would provide the Secretary of 
Transportation with the flexibility to transfer certain funds to 
prevent the furloughs of essential employees at the FAA, and certainly 
air traffic controllers qualify as essential employees.
  Specifically, it would give the Secretary the authority to transfer 
an amount not to exceed $253 million to prevent the furloughs of the 
air traffic controllers and other essential employees in order to 
reduce flight delays and at the same time to maintain a safe and 
efficient national airspace system. Our bill would accomplish this goal 
by allowing a one-time shift of unused moneys in the Airport 
Improvement Program to the operations account.
  I first raised this idea of using the AIP carryover balances as a 
solution at our Republican policy lunch on Tuesday. Since that time, 
many of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle have indicated 
interest in this approach.
  I want to emphasize our legislation has been vetted by the general 
counsel offices at both the FAA and the Secretary's office, so we know 
it works. Secretary LaHood told me this morning it is an effective, 
workable solution.
  I want to explain further exactly how this would work. Each year 
funds are distributed according to a formula under the Airport 
Improvement Program to airports across the country, but each year there 
are moneys that cannot be used by these airports by the end of the 
fiscal year. Those moneys come back to the FAA in Washington, and they 
are then usually reallocated through a competitive grant program.
  Last year it was as much as $700 million that came back to Washington 
to be reallocated. This year the amount of unused funds is estimated to 
be approximately $400 to $450 million. So we would take $253 million of 
that $400-plus million and use those funds to avoid these very damaging 
furloughs. The rest of the funds would, as usual, be reallocated to 
airports that need them through a competitive grant program.
  I want to be clear: This is the discretionary portion of the Airport 
Improvement Program. It in no way affects the entitlement funds that 
airports are guaranteed to receive. The program has sufficient funding 
to support this effort. Moreover, this is a one-time shift. It does not 
in any way provide a permanent change in this program.
  There would also be sufficient funds to fully fund and continue 
operating the contract tower programs, which so many of our 
colleagues--particularly Senator Moran--have supported and been 
concerned about.
  This is a commonsense solution. It doesn't involve additional money. 
It is a one-time shift of unused moneys. It does not make a permanent 
change in the Airport Improvement Program. It will solve the problem, 
avoid the need for these delays, for layoffs, and avoid harming our 
economy at a time when we can least afford to do so.

  The Airport Improvement Program is a very important program. It does 
support infrastructure at our Nation's airports. We are simply taking 
the unused funds that are generally reallocated and instead using a 
portion of these funds to avoid these disastrous implications of the 
direction the FAA has chosen.
  Our bill should be recognized as a one-time solution in order to 
avert these serious national impacts.
  I urge my colleagues to support this bill, and I hope we can act very 
promptly to solve this problem.
  Thank you, Mr. President.