While the Department of Transportation hasn’t publicly confirmed its plans concerning the fate of the contract tower program, two senators praised the Obama administration for moving to preserve the program.
Maryland Democrats Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin issued a joint statement that “[Transportation] Secretary [Ray] LaHood has moved quickly to keep air traffic controllers on the job and the federal air traffic control contract towers open and operational.”
The statement comes after reports surfaced that LaHood has assured lawmakers thatwill continue funding for the contract tower program in light of legislation passed last week that allows the agency to shift up to $253 million to help fund operations. President Barack Obama signed the legislation, the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013, into law on May 1.
The legislation was believed to have included enough funding maneuverability to end the furloughs and keep open the 149 contract towers that are slated to lose FAA’s funding as part of the agency’s sequestration cuts.
The day after the bill’s passage, FAA announced the end of the employee furloughs. But no similar announcements were forthcoming about the contract towers. Andis not confirming the reports of LaHood’s assurances, with a spokesperson saying only that “we are evaluating the details of the final legislation.”
But the joint statement from Cardin and Mikulski, who is chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, ratchets up Capitol Hill attention on the agency’s tower funding decision.
A number of lawmakers are continuing to press the agency to drop its plan to end funding for the towers. At least one letter from Capitol Hill on the issue has been sent to the agency this week, while others are in draft with multiple signatures.
Mikulski and Cardin, along with other Maryland lawmakers, urged LaHood last month to postpone the planned funding cutoff date. DOT, which originally planned to end funding beginning in April, subsequently postponed the date until June 15.
Mikulski and Cardin are concerned in particular about five Maryland towers among the 149 at risk of closing – Easton, Frederick, Hagerstown, Martin and Salisbury-Ocean City.
But even if the agency moves to preserve the towers under the legislation, the senators note the bill only provides FAA flexibility for 2013.
“The solution announced by the secretary solves the problem only for the next five months,” Mikulski and Cardin say in their joint statement. “The crisis created by furloughing air traffic controllers and the plan to close the nation’s federal ATC contract towers only served to highlight the fact that sequester is not good policy. It’s destructive to our economy, reducing employment when we should be stimulating it, and damaging priorities that are important to the American people.”