As Air Traffic Control Towers Close, FAA Hiring ‘Community Planners’

March 21, 2013 - 2:55 PM
AMR US Airways Airports

In this Sept. 27, 2012 file photo, US Airways employees assist customers at a ticket counter at the Charlotte/Douglas International airport in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

(CNSNews.com) – As the Federal Aviation Administration is set to announce Friday the temporary closure of 238 air traffic control towers because of the sequester, the agency is planning to hire “community planners” paid in excess of $100,000 – one at an airport slated to for a possible tower closure.

Funding for the community planners is exempt from sequestration, while funding for air traffic control towers are not exempt from reduced funding, according to the FAA.

The FAA is hiring a community planner in Brisbane, Calif., at a salary of between $67,575 and $126,095. The agency advertised another community planner in Helena, Mont., to be paid between $57,080 and $106,511 per year. The Helena airport is on the FAA list for potential tower closures. The Brisbane airport is not.

The FAA is taking a $637 million budgetary hit from sequestration. Sequestration is a 2.3 percent reduction in spending growth for the entire federal government until the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30. On Friday, the agency will announce what air traffic control towers will be closed. The closures will be at airports with fewer than 150,000 flight operations per year.

The sequester went into effect on March 1. The Brisbane, Calif., job was listed as being open to applications from March 5 to March 25. The Helena, Mont., job was listed as open to applications from Feb. 26 to March 11.

According to the FAA, this is not a question of spending priorities between control towers and community planners. That’s because the two are financed through separate funds within the FAA. Air traffic funding – which funds the towers – is a separate fund from the airport improvement program that funds community planners. Moreover, the airport improvement program is exempt from the sequester, according to the FAA.

The FAA declined to answer specific questions on the matter from CNSNews.com until it responds to questions from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on March 6 asking about several spending priorities in the sequestration, including FAA jobs.

Coburn’s letter mentioned the two community planner jobs, but also referenced four job openings for “Management and Program Assistants” with a maximum salary of $59,000 per year. The jobs are not presently listed on the FAA jobs site, but a “Management and Program Analyst” is listed for Washington, D.C., at a salary of between $50,806 and $78,755 per year.

“Leaving these six job openings unfilled would hardly put a dent in the $600 million in savings the FAA needs to find, but they do amount to the full-time yearly salaries for four air traffic controllers,” Coburn wrote. “These numbers may not be huge, but they illustrated an important point: FAA is not doing enough to seek out ways to save money without affecting their mission.

“While we value the work of everyone at the FAA, not every employee has duties critical to the immediate mission of the agency,” Coburn continued. “As such, we should give higher priority to those performing essential tasks over others who are not. Air traffic controllers, safety inspectors and technicians should certainly receive the highest priority.”

The Brisbane, Calif., community planner position is advertised as serving in the San Francisco Airport District Office. The Montana job operates out of the Helena Airports District Office.

The job descriptions said the community planner, “Assumes responsibility for all phases of project development from initial contact with the airport sponsor to financial completion with emphasis on airport planning and development projects. Assists sponsors in preparation of short, mid and long-term capital plans for Federal Assistance for both planning and development projects. Reviews and accepts airport master and system plans prepared by public airport sponsors, State aeronautical agencies and metropolitan planning agencies.”

The descriptions continued, “Provides assistance to airport sponsors for preparation of, and review, and approval of local airport demand forecasts and Airport Layout Plans. Reviews and approves planning consultant contracts, including determination of cost reasonableness and assuring that selection was in accordance with all federal requirements.

“Assists in the collection of data and develop documents required for satisfying requirements of National Environmental Policy Act. Reviews and approves project documents to assure that the design is based on sound airport development principals, is cost effective, and is in accordance with current agency guidance. Approves change orders, supplemental agreements and ‘As Built’ plans. Reviews and accepts or approves all land documentation. This includes land use compatibility plans, change in land use requests, land release, and land acquisition,” it added.