Latest Inspector General Report Should Prompt Policymakers to Act on Air Traffic Control Reform

Time to put a stop to, “here we go again.” That’s the reaction of the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) to the latest government report on the FAA’s troubled “NextGen” air transportation plan. The nonpartisan citizen group has advocated for a change of policy direction toward a user-funded, accountably managed air traffic control (ATC) system, and calls today’s findings from the Transportation Department’s Inspector General another reminder that defending the NextGen status quo is less and less tenable.

“If the next Congress and President needed another warning against complacency over the problems with America’s air traffic control system, the IG report released today is a loud and clear wake-up call,” said NTU President Pete Sepp. “Some of the ATC reform debate has revolved around how to keep a new structure fiscally accountable to Congress, but as the IG’s findings indicate, even under current circumstances the FAA’s plan is not giving sufficient attention to that problem.And, itwill get worse without fundamental change.”

In today’s findings, the IG noted that “since our last analysis [in 2012], FAA has not adjusted anticipated benefits for its transformational programs, and many benefits remain unquantified, broad, or uncertain for improving the flow of air traffic and reducing Agency operating costs.” Over that period of just four years, baseline costs for six FAA NextGen transformational programs have more than doubled, to $5.8 billion, while implementation times for some segments have slipped by six years.

This is not the only troubling assessment of NextGen. Both the IG and the Government Accountability Office have previously voiced numerous concerns about the program’s fiscal discipline. As a result ofthese developments, NTU led an open letter to lawmakers in February, signed by 12 other free market advocates, noting: “We hold many different views on U.S. aviation policy and potential responses from Congress. However, all of us agree the time is long overdue to move our nation’s air traffic control system toward proven, user-based solutions that will allow America to remain competitive in the skies.”

“The better part of a year has passed since those words from a broad coalition were written,” Sepp concluded. “Meanwhile, House Transportation Committee Chairman Shuster’s ATC reform plan has received a great deal of scrutiny as well as suggestions for improvement – some constructive, most unsupported by the facts. One thing has become clearer as time goes on – waiting around for the FAA to somehow muddle through to a brighter future on its own is not an option. Congress will need to confront this reality in 2017, and find a path to a bill capable of being signed into law. Taxpayers and consumers will be watching, and waiting.”

NTU is a nonpartisan citizen group founded in 1969 to work for lower taxes, limited government, and economic freedom at all levels.