The U.S. Senate Thursday night unanimously passed a bill that would allow the Federal Aviation Administration flexibility to move funds between accounts and end furloughs of air traffic controllers that have caused flight delays since being implemented Sunday under a budget-cutting mandate.
The Obama administration has said its hands are tied by the sequester process that requires the FAA to pare $637 million from its budget by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, part of $85 billion in indiscriminate government cuts due to political gridlock in Washington over how to reduce the deficit. It said belt-tightening across the agency was not enough to meet the mandate, requiring a 10 percent reduction in staffing from its 15,000-cadre of controllers through one day of unpaid leave per two-week pay period.
The "Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013" gives the FAA the ability to use $253 million in surplus Airport Improvement Project grant funds to cover the wages of the air traffic controllers. Some Republicans say the FAA already has the authority to shift funds around as needed to minimize impact on frontline operations.
On Wednesday, the FAA said 853 flights were delayed by staffing reductions.
The House is expected to vote on the measure today.
The airline industry said it hopes the bill can be completed before Congress adjourns for recess. - Eric Kulisch