Privatization Parade Marches On, Says Union

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Government To Declare ATC "Commercial"...

After two years of crying wolf, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) says it has the teeth marks to prove the government intends to contract out its members' jobs. NATCA spokesman Doug Church said the union was notified Wednesday that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has designated air traffic control a "commercial activity." Church said it's the first time ATC has made the annual OMB list and it sends a clear message that the government intends to privatize the service. Under the OMB's rating system, there are services considered "inherently governmental" that must always be done by government employees at the direction of the government. Functions that make the commercial list are considered to have potential for "outsourcing" read: contracting out). There are also different levels within the commercial classification and ATC is at the highest level, or Category A, which is "not appropriate for outsourcing." But Church said the pattern seems to be that newly added functions get the Category A designation for the first year and are downgraded from there. "This is the latest in what has been a slow and steady march toward privatization," said Church.

...Commercial But Still Government, Says FAA

But FAA spokesman Greg Martin said ATC's inclusion in Category A is a sincere expression of the FAA's intention to maintain air traffic control as a government function. "There is no intention that en route and major facilities will be outsourced," said Martin. There have been non-FAA-staffed VFR towers at smaller airports for about 20 years, he said. Martin also noted that Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has also dismissed the idea of privatizing air traffic control services. He said it was the FAA that decided, under the annual OMB review process, to include ATC in the commercial category for the first time. So, if there's no intention to contract out ATC, why change its designation? Martin said it was done based on what he termed the narrow definitions available to declare a function inherently governmental. He also said he expects there to be future discussions on the wording of those definitions. But in Church's mind, there's no debate that air traffic control is "so intimately related to the public interest as to mandate performance by federal employees," as stated in the OMB guidelines. He said it's inconceivable to NATCA that the government could consider baggage checkers at airports as inherently governmental and not air traffic controllers. "All these things contribute to the safety of the American flying public," he said. Church said the union will continue its highly public battle against privatization. "What we want is an educated debate on why this is a bad idea," he said. We'd like to show you the OMB list but it hasn't been made public yet. Church said NATCA got advance notice of the ATC inclusion. He said he's been told the list will be released by the end of the week.