The Federal Air Surgeon's Column: The Vagaries of Budgets

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From The Federal Air Surgeon's Medical Bulletin, Spring 1999.

The Federal Air Surgeon's Column

The Vagaries of Budgets

Editorial, by Jon L. Jordan, MD, JD

My several years as a manager of a federally funded program has taught me the necessity of paying close attention to all matters related to budget administration. In essence, it has become clear to me that all programs—productive or nonproductive, good or bad—all live or die by the skill of the manager in securing and judiciously expending funds.

I have been blessed with an energetic and knowledgeable staff to assist me in these matters, and I can say without hesitation that the funding successes experienced by the Office of Aviation Medicine have been more a product of the work of my staff than my own personal effectiveness.

There are times, however, when even the most effective manager and staff are unable to secure the optimum resources that would permit program growth and the most desirable productivity.

Over the years I have seen many "ups" and "downs" in the financial posture of the FAA and, in particular, the Office of Aviation Medicine. Among others, I remember quite well those instances when the agency verged on total shutdown, when reduction-in-force notices were prepared for distribution to employees, when certain employees were given financial incentives to vacate their positions so that staffing levels could be painlessly reduced, and when travel and training were canceled to conserve funds (including the conduct of AME seminars). Unfortunately, the FAA, including the Office of Aviation Medicine, again finds itself experiencing financial difficulties.

The fallout for the Office of Aviation Medicine, while not disastrous, is damaging. To meet funding shortfalls, we have curtailed employee travel and training, and hiring of new employees to fill vacated positions has been "frozen." To accommodate anticipated continuing funding shortfalls, the staffing level for future years has been reduced by seven positions. Further actions will have to be taken if additional reductions are required.

The short-term impact of our funding limitations is being felt throughout the Office of Aviation Medicine, but, with a few exceptions, will not be felt by AMEs. One major exception, however, is in respect to a potential resurgence of extensive delays in the processing of airman medical certification applications at the Aeromedical Certification Division, where we currently have a number of position vacancies that cannot be filled because of the employment "freeze." By its nature, the processing of medical certification applications is heavily personnel-dependent, and even a small reduction in staffing severely compromises our ability to make the system run smoothly.

It is, in part, these ups and downs in funding that lead us to develop systems for program delivery that are less personnel-dependent. Automation of ECG transmission and processing is one, and, of course, implementation of the Airman Medical Certification System (electronic transmission of medical certification examination data) and Document Imaging Workflow Systems (scanning of medical information into a computer data base) are others. The development of the Computer-Based Information module as a substitute for some seminar attendance was another initiative driven not only by a need to relieve a financial burden on AMEs, but also to lessen our dependence on funding.

It is essential that we continue to seek ways to become less dependent upon the vagaries of our budget process and the undulating availability of resources. I am hopeful that all of you will join us in our objective of providing the best possible service to the flying public in the most cost beneficial manner.

Your diligence in the accurate recording and transmission of Form 8500-8 data, solid decision-making, and adapting to full use of the new electronic systems will help significantly.

The Federal Air Surgeon's Medical Bulletin • Spring 1999