Air traffic control status changes

Air traffic control has lost its inherently governmental status, potentially opening the door to privatization of critical aviation positions.

Agencies must identify all functions they consider suitable for outsourcing, under the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act of 1998. The Transportation Department's latest list, which includes the Federal Aviation Administration's information, was released Dec. 9, 2002.

In accordance with the FAA's recommendation, the Office of Management and Budget designated air traffic control a "category A" commercial activity in the third release of inventories for 2002, posted last week in the Federal Register. While the designation does not mean controller jobs are subject to competition, they could later be shifted to another grouping that would allow them to be outsourced.

"We reject OMB's conclusion that the jobs of air traffic controllers aren't inherently governmental, or vital to the safety of the American public," John Carr, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said in a Feb. 11 news release. "For this administration to federalize airport security workers and then take steps toward privatizing air traffic control is not only a stark, head-scratching contradiction in policy, it's the continuation of a march toward the erosion of safety in our skies."

The Bush administration federalized airport security workers following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. President Bush subsequently deleted the phrase, "an inherently governmental function," from an executive order describing air traffic control. Increased outsourcing is one of the five goals composing his management agenda, a strategy for making government more effective.

Transportation officials have maintained that they have no intention of privatizing air traffic control. But the recent events in total have union officials and some members of Congress balking at that claim.

Last week, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) announced plans to introduce legislation to prevent outsourcing of controller and other maintenance-related jobs.

"Sen. Lautenberg's bill recognizes that there is no private workforce in place that can maintain the hundreds of FAA facilities across North America as efficiently and securely as the current federal workforce," Tom Brantley, vice president of the Professional Airways Systems Specialists, said in a Feb. 6 news release.


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