Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood confirmed on a conference call this morning that up to 4,000 personnel from Federal Aviation Administration have been furloughed without pay, because Congress has not passed an extension of their authorization.

The extension, which would be the 21st since 2007, has been tied up over union issues. Both houses of Congress have passed a long-term FAA reauthorization bill, but major differences exist between the House and Senate versions. Instead of offering a clean extension while negotiations continue, House Transportation Committee chair John Mica (R-FL) included some policy riders that would have punished rural airports, particularly in Harry Reid’s home state of Nevada. At issue is a change to how union elections in the aviation sector would be carried out; Mica and the House GOP essentially want every employee to count in a union election, no matter of whether or not they vote. Absent voters would count as a vote against unionization.

DOT Secretary LaHood, a Republican, said on the call that thousands of airport construction contracts have been halted, with dozens of stop work orders issued. “This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world,” LaHood said, expressing frustration at the lack of an extension. “This is why the American people are fed up with Washington. There’s no reason why Congress can’t pass a clean FAA bill. We cannot afford to wait, and Congress needs to get its act together.”

In addition to the furloughs and halted construction projects, taxes that fund the FAA are not being collected from passengers. The FAA’s trust fund income has therefore stopped. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said the trust fund currently “has a healthy balance,” but it’s being depleted by having to pay essential personnel, for example air traffic controllers and other public safety positions.

A press release notes some of the projects put to a halt today:

Las Vegas, Nevada: An over $43 million project to build a new air traffic control tower at McCarran International Airport. Contractor: Archer Western Contractors.

Palm Springs, California: A $24.5 million project to build a new air traffic control tower at Palm Springs International Airport. Contractors: Swinterton Builders.

Oakland, California: A $31 million project to build a new air traffic control tower at Oakland International Airport. Contractor: Devcon Construction.

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: An over $18 million project to build a new air traffic control tower at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport. Contractor: Donald J. Keating Co.

Kalamazoo, Michigan: An over $14 million project to build a new air traffic control tower at Battle Creek International Airport. Contractor: Skanska.

Gulfport, Mississippi: A nearly $12 million project to build a new air traffic control tower at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. Contractor: Flintco, Inc.

Queens, NY: An over $6 million project to demolish the old air traffic control tower at LaGuardia Airport. Work was supposed to begin on Saturday. Contractor: Paul J. Scariano Inc.

This is a significant and completely unnecessary loss of jobs at a time of great struggle for the nation’s economy.

There is a meeting planned at the White House this morning to design a strategy to break the Congressional impasse.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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