Huerta said 84 percent of FAA's employees are in the field dealing with “safety-critical functions.” Imposing more furlough days on some of them would be just as disruptive to aviation safety as the current plan, he said, since airlines operate in a network of various sized airports that require a range of services.
Moreover, he said, unequal pay cuts could have an effect on morale.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, a member of the subcommittee, questioned Huerta about the FAA's proposed budget for the next fiscal year. Cole said he didn't understand why the FAA would base the budget on the premise that the mandated budget cuts — known as the sequester — would be replaced before the fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
Making that assumption, he said, is what got the government in the situation it's now in, since most people assumed the automatic budget cuts wouldn't take effect in March.
“It's a long way from certain that the sequester will disappear,” Cole said.
Some Republicans on the subcommittee questioned why the FAA didn't notify the public and airports sooner about the furloughs. Huerta said the FAA has been warning about the impact since February.
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., defended the FAA, saying she was amazed that members of Congress would blame the agency when Congress had the power to stop the budget cuts.
In the Senate, Inhofe said the FAA's operations budget has more than doubled since 1996 and questioned why it couldn't have found budget cuts to avoid furloughing air traffic controllers.
“Somehow … there's not enough fat in a bureaucracy that's more than doubled in the last 15 years that they have to take these drastic steps,” Inhofe said.