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ATC Privatization Is On Life Support
September 12, 2017
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  • With Congress mostly back to the regular order of business (once all the hurricane related concerns are dealt with) there were still questions about whether or not Congressman Bill Shuster’s (R – PA) air traffic control (ATC) privatization scheme was going to come up for a vote. Those prospects seem to have dimmed further in just the past week or so. One major blow came when the American Conservative Union (ACU) gave the plan an unceremonious thumbs down.

    Politico Pro reports that the ACU has concluded a review of the plan and determined that this proposal fails to meet the definition of actual privatization on nearly every count. (Subscription link)

    The American Conservative Union Foundation is calling on Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) to withdraw his FAA bill, saying it does not align with the group’s Seven Principles of Privatization.

    Ian Walters, the group’s communication director, said Shuster should “withdraw the bill and start from scratch working with all stakeholders and Senate counterparts and agency officials, to come up with a bill that achieves real privatization.”

    The group analyzed the bill, H.R. 2997 (115) , for comparison against its principles and said its effort to shift air traffic control to a nonprofit entity meets only two, and those only partially.

    The chief complaints of the ACU are mostly in line with issues we’ve raised here in the past. First of all, it’s a complete hand-off of the system to a new entity which is being defined in advance. In other words, there is no private sector competition for the work, eliminating one of the chief cost savings drivers. The scheme also leaves the Department of Transportation in charge of putting employees in place at the new entity rather than the private sector. A mandate to accept “existing union contracts” has also rankled the group, and rightly so since the new board would be comprised pretty much entirely of union representatives and lobbyists from the industry’s favorite support team, Airlines for America.

    It’s unknown whether the ACU decision was a driving factor or not, but even if the plan somehow made it onto the House agenda this week, Shuster seems to be short on votes. (It’s currently nowhere on the schedule, though the House Majority Leader has offered the usual advisory that “additional items” could be added.) Politico also reports that as of yesterday, the votes simply don’t seem to be there. Democrats are opposing the plan almost uniformly, with the top Democrat on the Transportation Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) whipping votes against Shuster and claiming that he’s got most of them locked down. That was in response to rumors that Shuster had been “trolling for Democratic votes” since there were too many on the GOP side opposing him.

    One final note on this issue which turned up indicates that public support for the ATC privatization plan (such as it is) may be largely AstroTurf anyway. Bloomberg BNA looked into a couple of the “grassroots” groups supporting the scheme and found that their leadership looks suspiciously familiar and not very “grassroots” at all. The organization Flyers for Fairness, for example, seems to have been summoned into existence for no “fairness” reason other than supporting Shuster’s plan and its origins appear to tie back to the major carriers, the NATCA (the industry’s largest union) and Airlines for America.

    With luck, this zombie can be put in its grave once and for all during this session. I remain in favor of privatization if it’s done the right way, but this plan doesn’t meet our needs in any way, shape or form. Put an actual privatization plan on the table and we’ll be happy to take a look at it, but it needs to conform with the majority of the benchmarks identified by the ACU at a minimum.