According to data released Sept. 14 by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, a large portion of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) budget will be exempt from mandatory sequestration cuts sent to take effect on Jan. 3.
The 394-page report starts with a 10-page summary of the automatic budget cuts, but then moves on to hundreds of pages of charts for every government program or agency – covering 1,200 budgetary accounts.
Thirty percent of the FAA’s operations account is exempt – a large percentage compared to exemptions applied to other government agencies. However, the agency’s $11.5 billion operations budget, which in part pays for air traffic controllers and other safety functions, will be reduced by $377 million from 2012 levels.
The cuts are part of a government-wide $1.2 trillion, nine-year deficit reduction mandated by Congress in August 2011. The administration’s report, required by the Sequestration Transparency Act, only looks at the first year of budget cuts.
The cuts for all FAA accounts would reduce the agency’s spending power by $1.04 billion for 2013. Most impacted will be the airport and airway trust fund (AATF) portion of the budget, which uses fuel taxes, landing fees, and passenger taxes to fund approx. 20 percent of the FAA’s overall budget. The fund will be cut by 8.2 percent, falling by $415 million to $4.6 billion from the $5.1 billion in the account in 2012.
Business aviation leaders are worried that cuts in the AATF could lead to renewed talk of President Obama’s user fee proposal to make up lost revenue. In a hearing on Capitol Hill Sept. 12, King flight schools co-owner Martha King noted that imposition of a user fee now could cripple an industry still struggling to find its footing after the economic downturn.
The FAA’s $168 million research, engineering, and development budget, also funded through the airport and airway trust fund, would be cut by $14 million in 2013 as well.
The report “is the final nail in the coffin for Pollyanna’s still pretending that sequestration wouldn't be that bad. Indeed, it confirms what virtually every expert to study the problem has found — that such abrupt, indiscriminate cuts would be an economic and policy disaster for the United States of America,” said Aerospace Industries Association President/CEO Marion C. Blakey, a former FAA administrator.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would lose $429 million for aviation security and $79 million for federal air marshals. The FAA would see a drop of $377 million in its operations budget and would lose another $415 million drawn from the aviation trust fund.
“Sequestration is a blunt indiscriminate instrument. It was never intended to be implemented; it is not a reasonable way to achieve deficit reduction,” one Obama administration official said.
Informal talks to stop the sequester are already under way, but any legislation to avoid or delay the cuts is unlikely to be considered in either Houses until mid-November, with Congress rushing to adjourn until after the elections. The cuts are set to kick in Jan. 2, right before the 113th Congress is seated and starts legislative business.