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Air Traffic Controllers Join Other Transportation Unions in Assailing DOT Inspector General Kenneth Mead - (2/24/2003)

WASHINGTON – Air traffic controllers, gathered for their annual legislative conference on Capitol Hill this week, are delivering to members of Congress a strong rebuke of Department of Transportation Inspector General Kenneth Mead, refuting Mead’s inaccurate and inflammatory Congressional testimony directed at controllers earlier this month.

Mead testified on Feb. 11 before a Senate committee that the “Federal Aviation Administration's operations budget, which is 82 percent payroll costs" has increased "over 65 percent" from fiscal year 1996 to FY 2004. Speaking to several hundred controllers from around the country, National Air Traffic Controllers Association President John Carr pointed out Monday that, according to Office of Management and Budget data, the annual budget for the DOT office of the inspector general has increased from $38 million in FY 1997 to $63 million in FY 2004, an identical jump of 65 percent.

“The inspector general’s comments were ill-timed and ill-informed,” Carr said. “And as it turns out, they were disingenuous as well. I find it hard to believe that the inspector general is complaining to Congress about an FAA budget that increased at the same rate as his own.”

Mead’s testimony focused attention on controller salary increases as the primary cost driver. However, he conveniently omitted the fact that up to 30 percent of the highest-paid controllers' paychecks is from working overtime. Carr, clearly disappointed in Mead’s testimony, noted, “Mr. Mead failed to address the most serious safety issue facing our air traffic control system: The deteriorating staffing at facilities nationwide and the FAA’s increasing reliance on overtime as a means of avoiding its obligation to adequately staff the system."

Carr was also sharply critical of Mead's testimony that labor agreements between NATCA and the FAA, were out of control, unaccounted for and responsible for wasteful spending. "We have nearly 400 MOU's with the FAA on almost every single air traffic control modernization tool in our arsenal, as well as runway incursion devices, operational error reduction, and hundreds of other important nuances to the system. Our agreements benefit the FAA, the system and the flying public," Carr remarked.

Carr noted that the Transportation Trades Department, an AFL-CIO affiliation of 35 transportation unions, was sharply critical of the inspector general at its winter meeting. The TTD cited Mead for “demonizing” controllers and failing to report staffing shortages and the looming retirement crisis. The TTD has committed to urging Congress to review the IG’s conduct in his oversight of the FAA.

In addition to asking Congress to seek the truth behind Mead's testimony, controllers will continue to seek Congressional support to block administration attempts to privatize the nation's air traffic control system. "We must not allow the safety of our nation’s skies to be sold to the lowest bidder,” Carr stated. “To continue to have the gold standard of safety in the skies, air traffic control must remain a government function.”

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