Babbitt: FAA 'held hostage by political fight'

Friday - 7/29/2011, 12:26pm EDT

Randy Babbitt, administrator, Federal Aviation Administration

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Randy Babbitt joined the Federal Drive at the end of the first week of furloughs for some 4,000 agency employees. Last Friday, Congress failed to pass a stopgap funding measure throwing the agency into a partial shutdown.

Babbitt cited the laundry list of FAA operations around the country that have been affected, including the the years-long effort to overhaul the air transportation system, known as NextGen.

"We've completely shut down the NextGen operation," he said. "That's come to a complete halt." Additionally, construction and modernization projects at airports nationwide have been sidelined, he said, putting as many as 70,000 construction workers out of a job. Replacing aging equipment and research projects have also taken a hit, he said.

However, one thing that hasn't been affected is air safety, Babbitt was quick to caution. "We're not budgeting safety," he said, noting that the agency's full complement of air traffic controllers are still on duty and safety inspections are ongoing.

Babbitt was quick to lay blame at the feet of a squabbling Congress, which has previously approved 20 short-term FAA funding measures without incident.

"This is a political fight," he said. "And if people want to have a political fight, they should go rent a ring, get in it and have it. But to take 4,000 innocent FAA employees and literally tens of thousands of construction workers and put them out of work, I find just unconscionable."

The funding breakdown is surprising, Babbitt said, because for years FAA has been one of the last preserves of bipartisanship in a divided Washington."And for some reason, we lost that compass heading on this one," he said.

Added to the increasingly polarized Congress is the more immediate concern that the controversy surrounding whether and how to increase the debt ceiling has overshadowed the partial FAA shutdown. While Babbitt said the agency has been "imploring both sides of the political battle" to quickly come to a resolution, some fear the contentious debt ceiling debate may have stolen both the headlines and the attention of Congress.