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U.S. Representative Maxine Waters Testifies Against Proposal to Move Los Angeles ATO Workers to Seattle; Cites Safety Concerns

July 15, 2009
Press Release

United States Representative Maxine Waters (CA-35) today testified at a hearing before the Committee on Transportation's Subcommittee on Aviation on efforts to modernize the nation's Air Traffic Control system.  During her testimony, Rep. Waters urged the Subcommittee to reject a proposal to restructure the Los Angeles office of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Air Traffic Organization (ATO), which is located in Hawthorne, CA.  The Los Angeles ATO office provides services to all of the airports in Southern California, including Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the fifth busiest airport in the world.  Under the current restructuring proposal, approximately 86 employees would be given the choice to relocate to an office 1,500 miles away or lose their jobs.  Rep. Waters, whose Congressional District includes both LAX and the Los Angeles ATO office, discussed the potential safety threats that could result if the FAA's plan is implemented.  That portion of her statement follows:

Southern California is among the world's busiest airspaces and serves more passengers than any other region in the United States.  Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control, which provides radar air traffic approach control services to all arriving and departing aircraft for most airports in Southern California, is the busiest approach control in the world.

Phoenix, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Oakland, and Southern California are among the fastest growing sites of air travel in the United States.  All of these airspaces and facilities are currently served by the Los Angeles Regional Office.  Under the proposed restructure, they would all be served from Seattle.
 
In the years ahead, LAX is scheduled for major modernization and safety enhancements worth billions of dollars, programs with which the FAA will play a key role.

An ATO Service Area Office needs to be close to Southern California Facilities to provide immediate and expert attention.  A Service Area Office 1500 miles away will result in neglect of these huge and critical facilities.  Experience tells us that facilities located near headquarters and regional offices receive better programs and quicker service than outlying facilities.  Distancing the service operations away from Los Angeles is folly. 

When a controller in a tower flips a switch to turn on a radar, that radar had better turn on.  If it doesn't, someone from the regional office had better respond quickly.  Neither the controller, the pilot, nor the air passengers will find solace that a repair has been delayed because the closest Service Area Office is over 1500 miles away. 

 

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Full Statement

Hearing on Air Traffic Control Modernization
Subcommittee on Aviation
Committee on Transportation

Statement by Rep. Maxine Waters

June 21, 2006

 

Introduction

     Chairman Mica, Congressman Costello, distinguished members of the Subcommittee on Aviation: thank you for allowing me to testify during this hearing on "Air Traffic Control Modernization:  The Present and the Future."

     My congressional district is home to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the fifth busiest airport in the world.  It is also home to the Western Pacific Regional Office of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Air Traffic Organization (ATO).  The modernization of our nation's air traffic control system is of tremendous importance to me and my constituents, as well as the millions of travelers who fly into and out of my district every year. 

Background

     The FAA is proposing to restructure the ATO into three service areas:  Eastern, Central, and Western.  Under the FAA's proposed plan, the Eastern Service Area Office would be in Atlanta; the Central Office would be in Fort Worth; and the Western Office would be in Seattle.  The six regional offices that would be adversely affected by this reorganization are in Anchorage, Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, New York, and Los Angeles.  I believe that this plan represents a step backward in the agency's mission to provide the safest, most efficient airspace system in the world. 

Costs

     The FAA maintains that the restructure will yield savings of $360 million to $460 million over ten years.  I question these optimistic projections.  Despite requests, the FAA has failed to disclose the analysis that support these projections. 

     Congress cannot assess the agency's estimates without being given access to the full report of the ATO Structure and Process Evaluation and the proper time to review it.  I would also recommend a third party review or audit of the projected savings.

     Under the proposed restructure, the relocated ATO employees would spend more time in travel and less time doing their jobs.  More air travel by the ATO employees themselves would be needed to support and administer California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada projects and facilities from a Seattle office.  That will result in less work, more travel expenses, and diminished safety margins. 

     Allow me to note that the FAA recently adjusted downward by $500 million the anticipated savings from last year's privatization of the Flight Service Stations.  This sudden and significant restatement of projected savings has provoked a GAO audit, and appropriately so.  Needless to say, this development does not bolster confidence in the FAA's unaudited projections.

      It bears pointing out here that the cost-saving rationale does not appear to apply to certain parts of the country.  I have been informed that the FAA has seen fit to create exceptions to directed reassignments for employees of the Anchorage and Kansas City regional offices.  Thus, loyal FAA employees who happen to work in the Boston, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles offices will have to move or lose their jobs.  For some reason, employees in Anchorage and Kansas City may keep their current stations.

The Customer

     The pending reorganization removes ATO engineers and managers away from the customers they service.  Let's be clear who we mean by "customers":  Airports and the state and local governments that sponsor airports.  Under the reorganization plan, the FAA points of contact relied on by the customers are moving to remote Service Centers.  Much of the business performed by these ATO engineers and managers is performed in the field and in face to face contact.  It cannot all be replaced by the telephone.  So, under the reorganization, a lot of the customer service won't be done as well, or it won't be done at all.

     If there were to be reorganization, the ATO's original proposal made far more sense than its later pronouncement.  Originally, the Western Service Area Office was placed in Los Angeles, minutes from LAX, where it would be centrally located to serve the busy and growing air traffic spaces and facilities of the Western Pacific Region. 

The Employees

     Although I have seen varying estimates, approximately 400 ATO employees nationwide would be reassigned to the three new Service Area Offices.  At last count, about 86 employees in the Los Angeles Regional Office will be given directed reassignments to an office 1500 miles away.  Their choice will be to leave LA, or leave the FAA.

     The reorganization plan affects highly trained and qualified employees the FAA needs to make the national air system as safe and efficient as possible.  It's not just secretaries and bookkeepers affected by the restructure.  Civil and electrical engineers are being given the ultimatum.  These engineers are the men and women of our government's air traffic system who work with radars, navigation equipment, communication systems, and other technology that keep planes in the air moving safely to their destinations. 

     Under the plan, there would be a dramatic loss of intellectual capital from the FAA.  The loss of civil and electrical engineers who would choose early retirement or resignation rather than relocation would strain the administration of air traffic, airspace and engineering activities in the Western Pacific Region.  This brain drain would adversely affect the safety of the flying public.

     Large numbers of Los Angeles employees may decline their administrative reassignments to Seattle.  Yet, the FAA's announced policy is to treat a refusal to accept an administrative reassignment as a "separation."  Hence, the planned restructure will have the same staff thinning effect as a reduction in force (RIF) but without the protections afforded by a RIF, especially priority consideration for other openings.

     A move to Seattle presents employees with the Hobson's choice of either losing careers or being torn from families and friends.  The move would also place a disproportionately heavy burden on the backs of single parents who rely on family for child care.

     Racial and ethnic diversity existing in the current Western Pacific Regional Office will be lost if the Service Area Office is moved out of Los Angeles.  The Western Pacific region has the highest percentage of minority employees of any region in the country. 

The Office Should Remain in Los Angeles

     If the three western regional offices were to be consolidated, Los Angeles is the superior location for the Western Service Area Office. 

     LAX has Better Access to Major Airports:  LAX offers vastly more domestic flights than SeaTac, the airport serving Seattle.  In 2005, LAX offered 92,000 more domestic passenger flight departures than SeaTac and 11,000,000 more domestic departing seats.

     Los Angeles has Better Commute Times:  According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the Los Angeles Regional Office in Hawthorne enjoys shorter commute times than Renton, the location of the Seattle Regional Office. 

     Los Angeles has More Economical Employee Relocation Costs:  Los Angeles is again the most cost-effective site.  According to the ATO relocation study, based on permanent change of station (PCS) costs, "the most cost effective site for the restructuring of ATO Service Area Offices in the … Western Service Area [is] Los Angeles."  The PCS cost associated with a Seattle move is $1,440,000 greater than Los Angeles.

     Los Angeles has More Available Office Space:  The Los Angeles Regional Office can fully accommodate a transfer of operations to Los Angeles.  In contrast, the Seattle office is so congested that FAA staff are housed outside of the Regional Office in outlying office buildings. 

     Los Angeles has More Clement Weather:  I am informed that the Seattle office was forced to close last winter because of icy conditions.  Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Office was open for business.  Climatic conditions have never been known to interfere with the operation of the Los Angeles Office.

     Los Angeles has Better Public Transportation:  Los Angeles' public transportation surpasses Seattle's.  Los Angeles has a subway system, which Seattle lacks.  Los Angeles also has an extensive and growing light rail system.  In fact, the Hawthorne office building is one block from a commuter rail station. 

     Los Angeles has a Rich Cultural Life:  When considering such factors as access to cultural life, the quality of museums, nearby local and natural parks, water views, city vibrancy, restaurants, sports and entertainment, Los Angeles stands out, rivaled only by such world cities as New York and London.

     The point, of course, is not that Seattle is not a nice place to live.  The point is that Seattle is no place for an ATO Service Center serving Southern California and the Western Pacific States.

Safety

     Southern California is among the world's busiest airspaces and serves more passengers than any other region in the United States.  Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control, which provides radar air traffic approach control services to all arriving and departing aircraft for most airports in Southern California, is the busiest approach control in the world.

     Phoenix, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Oakland, and Southern California are among the fastest growing sites of air travel in the United States.  All of these airspaces and facilities are currently served by the Los Angeles Regional Office.  Under the proposed restructure, they would all be served from Seattle.

     In the years ahead, LAX is scheduled for major modernization and safety enhancements worth billions of dollars, programs with which the FAA will play a key role.

     An ATO Service Area Office needs to be close to Southern California Facilities to provide immediate and expert attention.  A Service Area Office 1500 miles away will result in neglect of these huge and critical facilities.  Experience tells us that facilities located near headquarters and regional offices receive better programs and quicker service than outlying facilities.  Distancing the service operations away from Los Angeles is folly. 

     When a controller in a tower flips a switch to turn on a radar, that radar had better turn on.  If it doesn't, someone from the regional office had better respond quickly.  Neither the controller, the pilot, nor the air passengers will find solace that a repair has been delayed because the closest Service Area Office is over 1500 miles away.

Conclusion

     We all know that our nation's need for air travel will continue to grow in the coming decades.  This growth in air traffic will require trained and experienced FAA employees.  These employees will be able to provide the best possible service if they are located near important air travel hubs like LAX.

     Modernizing the FAA should not be done at the expense of FAA employees or those who depend on their services.  If the Subcommittee believes that the FAA should invest more resources in modernizing facilities and equipment, then the Subcommittee should seek an increase in resources for the FAA.  Cutting FAA administrative services in order to increase funding for modernization is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

     I urge the members of this subcommittee to support the existing nine regional offices of the ATO and exercise your oversight responsibilities to ensure that the FAA does not implement this reduction in force.  I look forward to working with the Subcommittee on Aviation to ensure the continuing safety and efficiency of air travel at LAX and throughout the United States.

Issues: