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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, at the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies hearing, U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) questioned Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta on the Administration’s decision to disproportionately target FAA Contract Control Towers with sequestration cuts. Administrator Huerta said he did not have the authority to use unobligated funds to keep the towers open – authority Sen. Moran’s blocked amendment to the Continuing Resolution (CR) would have given the FAA. The Obama Administration opposed allowing the Senate to vote on Sen. Moran’s amendment – which had strong bipartisan support – for unknown reasons.

Moran: (3:38) “Let me make sure that I understand that answer, which is you do have the discretion to decide where the cuts would occur because you’re choosing to cut the Control Tower Program and not furlough air traffic controllers at more high volume airports. So the suggestion that has been made, that we have no choice – it is a choice, but it’s a choice that you describe as difficult – but you made a choice. Is that true?”

Huerta: “The choice that we made is to minimize impact on the maximum number of travelers…”

Moran:Administrator – that is exactly what I would want you to do. What is disturbing to me is the continual suggestion that we don’t have the discretion to do that. What you’re saying to me is exactly what I’ve been saying on this issue is ‘why can’t we prioritize?’ You prioritized – you decided that ‘this’ more important for safety than ‘this.’ Why isn’t spending money on control towers more important than unobligated balances?”   

Huerta:Because the unobligated balances are in a different funding source that I am not permitted to transfer money from.”

Moran: “I was giving you the authority to do that.”

Huerta: “But it’s authority that I don’t have.” 

Moran:But you opposed me giving you the authority to do that. That doesn’t make sense to me. I’m still baffled by this.”

Sen. Moran’s amendment to the CR would have stopped the planned FAA funding cuts to 149 air traffic control towers in 42 states by withdrawing $50 million in unobligated FAA research and capital funds from prior appropriations bills. Sen. Moran’s amendment had 26 bi-partisan Senate co-sponsors – 14 Democrats and 12 Republicans – and was supported by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and aviation industry groups, but was blocked from a vote by the Administration.

During today’s hearing, Sen. Moran also pointed to a 2010 statement made by Administrator Huerta at the groundbreaking for the stimulus-funded control tower at the Frederick Municipal Airport in Frederick, Md. – a control tower the FAA now slates for closure due to the disproportionate sequestration cuts.

Moran: (6:00) “One of the things that caught my attention – and I assume that you said this, it comes from a newspaper in Frederick, Maryland. You were quoted at the time the stimulus dollars were made available – $5.3 million for an air traffic control tower, just a few years ago – you’re quoted as saying in the local newspaper: ‘more than 300 aircraft are based at the airport – it has two runways and handles 130,000 aircraft operations annually’….Huerta had to almost shout above the noise to say he came to make the case the airport is so busy that it needs a tower. ‘I think the case has been made,’ Huerta said. ‘This has become a very busy airport.’ And yet, it’s one that is now being closed.”

Hueta: “…as I’ve said, these are difficult choices."

At the 2010 groundbreaking ceremony, Administration Huerta is also quoted as saying “these Recovery Act dollars will improve the safety and efficiency of Frederick's airport…"

FTP LINK:  Click here to download video of Sen. Moran questioning Deputy FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. (Save to your desktop.)

AUDIO LINK:  Click here to download audio of the remarks.

YOUTUBE:  Click here to watch his remarks on YouTube.

Sen. Moran continues the fight to protect FAA contract towers and has brought together a bipartisan coalition of Senators committed to finding more responsible ways to cut spending than by compromising safety. He and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced the Protect Our Skies Act, legislation to protect air traffic control towers and preserve aviation safety across America. The legislation, which boasts 32 bipartisan cosponsors, would prohibit the Department of Trenasportation from closing any air traffic control towers during FY 2013 or 2014, including those that are operated by the FAA.

A report published last summer by the Inspector General for the DOT found that the Contract Tower Program was one of the most efficiently run programs in the FAA. The report also showed the specified towers in the FAA Contract Tower Program were all operational in 2009, when the FAA received less funding than they will under sequestration.

The Protect Our Skies Act is supported by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and numerous aviation industry groups.