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FAA, TSA, Air Traffic Control Would Continue to Operate in a Government Shutdown

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According to the Federal Aviation Administration, government employees whose jobs involve air safety will continue to go to work even if the government shuts down this week due to the much-talked about budget stalemate. The Washington Post reported that although many non-critical functions of the FAA would be suspended, an official from the agency has reassured them that they “will retain all employees necessary to keep the national airspace system operating safely.”

TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) employees would continue to work as well; the same going for Air Traffic Controllers.

However, some administrative services that the government provides for aircraft, such as aircraft certification, will be suspended — if the government actually shuts down, that is.

NextGen, the satellite-based FAA project we reported on last year that is designed to increase the safety and dependability of air traffic over a period of years, would be suspended in the event of a temporary shutdown as well.

“It’s critical that Congress fund the FAA by passing a fiscal year 2011 appropriations bill,” said Aerospace Industries Association President and CEO Marion C. Blakey in an AIA press release today. “More continuing resolutions will further erode [the] FAA’s ability to implement the much needed Next Generation Air Transportation System in a timely manner.”

“Americans support improving our aviation system,” Blakey said. “Funding NextGen is important.”

Passing a full-year appropriations measure would allow the FAA to enter into new contracts, move forward with new construction, hire more safety inspectors and certify new technology. These activities are prohibited under Congressionally proposed stop-gap resolutions that would only allow spending on previously authorized projects.

The FAA has said that consumers won’t be able to tell a difference whether the shutdown occurs or not. Still, the airlines could end up feeling it. During the last government shutdown, in 1995, the non-processing of a huge number of applications for visas and passports cost U.S. airlines and tourism-dependent businesses millions of dollars.

The potential government shutdown is linked to a somewhat obscure federal law called the Anti-Deficiency Act that was passed over 140 years ago. The 1870 law mandates that all federal agencies have to cease their operations in the event that the President and Congress fail to reach an agreement on funding. It was passed by Americans still recovering from the Civil War to control budgetary spending, but today it looks like America today could end up paying the price – or not, as it were.

The shutdown will occur only if Congress cannot reach agreement on this fiscal year’s budget. The President has continued to meet every day with Congressional leaders trying to reach a consensus.

When the government shut down in 1995, hundreds of national parks, museums, and passport agencies closed completely for three weeks before an agreement was finally reached.

Today, Democrats want to cut approximately $33 billion worth of spending from the budget, while Republicans want to cut up to $61 billion. According to USA Today, most of the standstill is related to Republican demands to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, National Public Radio (NPR), and to block the power the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has to enforce pollution/hazardous waste regulations.

In addition, House Republicans want to cut $4 billion in funding from the FAA itself by cutting FAA jobs, eliminating the Essential Air Service Program, reversing a ruling on elections for union representation, and other legislative measures.

No matter what happens tomorrow at midnight, government health services involving critical medical care, as well as defense, law enforcement, and military operations will continue to function until an agreement is reached. Nevertheless, one could expect to see slowdowns in services that involve a lot of paperwork processing, such as passport, social security, and Medicare services (although social security, Medicare, and veterans’ benefits will still be paid). Tax returns filed electronically rather than on paper are processed automatically, so checks should arrive on time.

In summary, the government will maintain all employees that are necessary to keep the country – including the national airspace – safe.

A spokesman for the FAA said, “We still believe there is an opportunity to avoid a government shutdown but are working to ensure that we are prepared for all possible scenarios.”

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