The term “public servant” acquired a new pejorative connotation this week. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Agency Administrator Michael Huerta have adopted a “public be damned” attitude toward airline passengers by needlessly insisting that budget cuts imposed by Congress require a rigid bureaucratic implementation that has tied air travel in knots.
Their decision to cut the air traffic controller work force across the board has seriously disrupted airline schedules, inconveniencing millions of Americans and damaging the airline industry, which has sued to overturn the cuts.
This week Mr. Huerta told the House Appropriations Committee he had no choice but to furlough 11 percent of the nation’s air traffic controllers because of the so-called “sequestration” law adopted by Congress.
But that is clearly not the case.
He and Secretary LaHood could have gone to Congress for authority to redirect available funds to maintain the air traffic control system largely intact. That is allowed under the law. The Justice Department, for example, was authorized this week by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to “reprogram” funds in order to avoid furloughs this year.
Mr. Huerta’s defense of his actions prompted an exchange that gives some insight into the political games being played at the public’s expense.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said it is “unacceptable” for “the FAA to try to blame difficulties in flying on Congress, having not informed us on what the plan would do.”
The panel’s senior Democrat, Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, an opponent of the sequestration law, replied that she found it “mystifying” that some “would blame the FAA for Congress’ failures.”
The facts, however, are not on her side.
As the Justice Department example demonstrates, administrators can ask Congress for flexibility in implementing the sequestration cuts, and if they have a good case they will get it.
Certainly, unimpeded air service is to the benefit of the traveling public and the nation’s commercial well-being.
But the White House and the Democratic leadership in Congress want to make Republicans take the blame for the sequestration law (which was originally proposed by the White House and passed with bipartisan support), and it is in their political interests to make the effects more troublesome than need be.
That seems to be the effect of the way that FAA Administrator Huerta and Transportation Secretary LaHood have handled the sequester. The result is an outrageous imposition on the public interest.