LaHood: "We don't want this to go another day"

Tuesday - 7/26/2011, 8:41am EDT

Ray LaHood, Transportation Secretary

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By Vyomika Jairam
Federal News Radio

The Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation are continuously asking Congress to pass a clean-extension bill restoring the FAA's authority, without putting "controversial matters into the bill," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Federal News Radio.

The FAA is in day four of its funding limbo with no resolution in sight.

The White House has been involved in the re-authorization efforts, LaHood said, and FAA and Transportation officials have another White House meeting today at 10:30 a.m., their third since Friday.

If and when Congress does agree on a measure restoring the FAA's authority, LaHood said furloughed employees can return to work quickly.

"It will be very easy to get our folks back to work, our 4,000 employees can come back with just a phone call saying that the funds have been restored, the extension has been granted," LaHood said. "They've been laid off one day now, we don't want this to go another day."

LaHood said when the FAA is reauthorized, the DoT will push hard to have employees retroactively paid. But, while lost pay may be recouped, lost time cannot, and research on NextGen technology has completely stopped. As have construction projects at airports across the country.

"Congress has complained in the past that it's going to take us too long to get the NextGen," LaHood said. "This even extends it further if our folks cannot continue to work on their important research to make this happen."

Prospects for quickly ending the legislative dispute between the House and Senate appear grim, with neither side signaling willingness to compromise. The FAA's operating authority expired last week. Air traffic controllers have continued to work, as well as FAA employees who inspect the safety of planes and test pilots.

Transportation officials have said safety won't be compromised. But it was unclear how long the FAA can continue day-to-day operations before travelers begin to feel the effects of the shutdown.

Congressman John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said there have been no negotiations between the House and Senate to resolve the dispute.

Republican leaders said they are determined to hold to their position that the Senate must accept a House-passed bill to extend FAA operations through mid-September even though it contains a provision eliminating $16.5 million in air service subsidies for 13 rural airports. Democrats say that provision is unacceptable.

The shutdown is costing the FAA about $30 million a day in lost revenue because airlines no longer have authority to collect ticket taxes.

There is no threat however, LaHood said, that any of the employees currently furloughed may have their position permanently eliminated. He asked that employees and workers "be patient, and to know that we are working 24/7 to persuade Congress to meet immediately."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.