The Trump Administration is reportedly putting the President’s Bully Pulpit to work this week with a series of announcements and tours focusing on critical infrastructure issues across the United States.
First up, reports the Washington Post, will be a spotlight on the Next-Gen efforts by the Federal Aviation Administration, and a plan to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system.
The president has invited executives from major airlines to join him as he kicks off the week with one of his more controversial plans: spinning off the air traffic control functions of the Federal Aviation Administration to a nonprofit corporation.
It’s an idea that has been tried many times before, dating back to the Clinton administration and, most recently, last year in legislation championed by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee. His bill never made it to the Senate, where several key GOP members resisted the idea of transferring government assets to a corporation.
Advocates of the idea argue that privatization would speed up glacial efforts by the FAA to modernize a system that still relies on land-based radar at a time when other countries have switched to GPS systems that allow more direct routes at lower costs.
The FAA has been planning to bring several of its major air traffic control facilities on line with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) technology, a key underpinning of its NextGen system that provides surveillance for tracking aircraft.
The FAA’s delays in modernizing the air-traffic system are by now infamous, even by Washington’s standards on project management milestones that just drag on for years. Here’s one example from 2014:
A new report from the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General says the FAA’s implementation of ADS-B continues to suffer from delays, cost overruns, and technical problems that make it difficult for the FAA to fully justify investments in the system. The report findings echo concerns raised by AOPA and others about the need to manage costs and provide clearly defined benefits for end users.
Right now, air-traffic controllers largely use a communications system with pilots that relies on walkie-talkies on a VHF frequency. It speaks volumes that the air traffic controllers union also supports a privatization plan to lift this project out from under the weight of all those FAA bureaucratic layers that drag on for years. We have a president who wants to help reformers fix how the system works.
Politico, meanwhile, notes that “Monday’s announcement will be the most revealing look yet at the administration’s thinking on the issue. Shuster is expected to attend the White House festivities, which will include an announcement in the Rose Garden.” This will be a big update following the fact sheet on infrastructure that the White House inserted into the 2018 budget proposal.
Then the Trump Team heads to Ohio and Kentucky for speeches where “Trump will outline more about his infrastructure vision and how his administration plans to support rural and ‘transformative’ projects.”
It’s going to be a great week for those of us who keep an eye on infrastructure in America!