WASHINGTON — Sen. Tom Coburn called out the Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday for threatening to close air traffic control towers and furlough nearly 50,000 employees while the agency is holding conferences and posting job openings for a “community planners” and “program assistants.”
Coburn, R-Muskogee, sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, whose department includes the FAA, suggesting other cuts that could be made to save money and protect the safety of the flying public.
“Before considering cuts to essential services, I would encourage the Administration to first cancel all upcoming conferences, freeze all nonessential hiring, reconsider cuts to private control towers, and reduce funding for several low-priority programs before cutting costs that could impact flight safety,” Coburn said in his letter.
“The approximately $600 million in required savings from the FAA represents less than 4 percent of the FAA's $15.9 billion budget in fiscal year 2012. I am confident there are numerous options for savings that will not interfere with FAA's mission.”
Spending cuts that went into effect last week are forcing immediate cutbacks at most federal departments and agencies. The cuts are coming almost halfway through the fiscal year and department leaders have complained that they have little flexibility in carrying them out.
Coburn has written almost daily for the past week to the White House budget office and department leaders to point out spending that could be cut before top priorities are affected.
Earlier this week, the FAA began giving the required 30-day notice to employees that they might be furloughed beginning in April. The FAA has about 5,000 direct government employees at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City.
LaHood, who has warned that furloughing air traffic controllers could lead to flight delays of up to 90 minutes, has been criticized by some congressional Republicans for overstating the impact of the cuts.
An FAA spokesperson referred Thursday to a speech made this week by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, who said the agency was looking at all options to reduce costs.