Airlines, shippers and passengers are feeling the effects of the furloughs imposed Sunday on air traffic controllers by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration as part of a budget mechanism to save $637 million by the end of the fiscal year.
The sequestration process hit all discretionary spending across the government because Republicans in Congress and the White House could not agree on alternative cuts or revenue enhancements to reduce the deficit. The Department of Transportation has interpreted the law as requiring equal cuts to all programs, resulting in reduction of hours that effectively reduce the air traffic control workforce by 10 percent.
On Tuesday, the FAA issued a statement saying travelers can expect to experience delays because of weather and staffing shortages. Staffing challenges are causing delays at Dallas-Fort Worth, Las Vegas and Los Angeles international airports, in particular, it said.
On Monday, more than 1,200 delays were attributed to staffing reductions resulting from the furloughs, which require workers to take one day of unpaid leave per pay period.
The airline industry and unions have called on the Obama administration to grant the DOT more flexibility to preserve front-line services.
Obama administration officials say a hiring freeze, travel restrictions, termination of some temporary employees and reductions in contracts do not save enough money to meet the mandate.
"Furloughs cannot be avoided. Seventy percent of the FAA's operations budget is personnel," White House spokesman Jay Carney said at the daily news briefing. Carney said Republicans could have avoided the pain if they had supported a more balanced approach to deficit reduction instead of trying to do it all with spending cuts.
The cuts "affect agencies differently depending on the makeup of an agency's budget," Carney said in response to questions about how other agencies are able to avoid furloughs.
Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, a Republican, said the reduction in flight activity is hurting Florida's tourism industry and called on President Obama to "immediately end FAA furloughs."
Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., said Wednesday on MSNBC
's "Morning Joe" program that the FAA would have more money at the end of this fiscal year, after the sequestration cuts take effect, than were originally proposed in President Obama's budget. He questioned why the FAA didn't furlough non-essential employees from its 47,000-person workforce, especially since air traffic controllers represent only about a third of the agency's overall workforce. - Eric Kulisch