Chairman Price Statement at Hearing on FY 2021 FAA Budget Request

2020-03-11 10:30
Statement

Congressman David Price (D-NC), Chair of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on the Fiscal Year 2021 budget request for the Federal Aviation Administration:

The hearing will come to order.  Good morning everyone, and welcome to our third subcommittee hearing of the season.  Today we’ll examine the proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget for the Federal Aviation Administration.  We are pleased to have Administrator Steve Dickson on hand to testify and answer our questions.  Thank you for being here.

The FAA provides critical services on behalf of the traveling public every day.  Millions of flights—both scheduled and unscheduled—must safely navigate our national airspace, the most complex in the world.  This year’s FAA budget requests $17.5 billion in budgetary resources, a decrease of about $96 million compared to last year’s enacted level. 

Overall, the request is essentially flat – it eliminates $400 million for supplemental airport grants and then increases funding for the Operations account by $372 million, mostly to cover salary and retirement benefits.  Funding for the Facilities and Equipment account and the Research, Engineering, and Development account see modest reductions.

FAA identifies about $1 billion in proposed NextGen investments in their budget request.  This would allow the agency to continue its efforts to modernize the air traffic control system, improve efficiency, and transition legacy equipment to new platforms.

Emerging technologies, including unmanned aerial systems and a bourgeoning commercial space industry, hold great promise to revolutionize the national airspace and boost our economy but pose challenges to the existing regulatory framework.  A total of $144.5 million is requested for UAS programs and another $44 million for commercial space activities.

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the Boeing MAX accident in Ethiopia, which killed 157 people.  This Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of the FAA order that grounded the MAX indefinitely.  These two anniversaries remind us that safety must be the FAA’s highest priority.  The public and Congress expect complete transparency as the FAA works to safely return the MAX to service and evaluates outside

Numerous committees and expert review bodies have identified various areas of potential improvement for FAA’s regulatory procedures.  Some recommendations, such as bolstering human factors and systems safety expertise, are about acquiring new skills and incorporating this knowledge into the certification and flight standards process. 

Others are specific to Organization Designation Authorization, or ODA, which has come under scrutiny in the wake of the Boeing disasters.  Initial reports suggest that private sector employees who possess this delegated authority may face undue pressure from management to prioritize production timelines over the safety of the traveling public, which is never acceptable. 

FAA oversight of ODA must extend not only to ensuring a workable division of labor between the agency and private firms but also, above all, to ensuring there is no slippage with regard to relentless attention to safety and the maintenance of a safety-first culture.

I’d like to underscore that the recently enacted FY 2020 omnibus package directed FAA to respond to each recommendation and report to the Appropriations Committees about any resource or funding needs.  The agreement also included targeted investments to jumpstart this process, including:

$6.8 million for salaries and expenses of additional staff with expertise in human factors, systems safety engineering, software, data analytics, and other valuable skills;

$6.2 million to cover the costs of technical training and credentialing for flight operations, aircraft certification, and other specialties that support aviation safety; and

$3 million for FAA to provide guidance and training to international civil aviation authorities, foreign air carriers, and other stakeholders to better understand U.S. safety standards and how to integrate U.S.-manufactured aircraft into their own regulatory frameworks.

I’m glad to see that FAA’s budget request proposes $70 million above the enacted level for the Office of Aviation Safety and other staff offices to improve FAA’s safety oversight.  I look forward to learning more about the activities described in the request and how they complement the investments I just described.

Of course, we know that funding isn’t everything.  Resources must supplement the right policies, the right people with the right skills, and, again, a culture that prioritizes safety above all else. 

We are closely following the work of Chairman DeFazio and our authorizing partners on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  Last week, they released preliminary recommendations from their Boeing investigation.  We look forward to reviewing legislative proposals that emerge from their extensive inquiry and working with them to ensure FAA has appropriate funding to make any necessary changes.

Lastly, I hope you’ll spend some time explaining the FAA’s role with respect to the public health threat posed by the coronavirus. Are you working with CDC to get guidance to airports, airlines, and the traveling public?  What role is the FAA playing in the administration’s task force?  What should the American people know about their health risks if they choose to fly right now?

Administrator Dickson, the FAA and its dedicated employees have an exceptionally challenging mission—one that is vital to our safety, economic wellbeing, and international competitiveness. 

I look forward to your testimony today and working with you to ensure that FAA has the resources required to carry out its considerable responsibilities. 

I’d now like to recognize my partner and friend, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the Ranking Member of the subcommittee.

 

116th Congress