The Wall Street Journal
Airline passengers were plenty angry last month when the Federal Aviation Administration chose to impose flight delays rather than accept modest and more sensible budget cuts. Those passengers will now be thrilled to learn what the FAA was funding instead of air-traffic control.
According to an internal FAA document we've obtained, on January 14 Administrator Michael Huerta notified employees that the FAA would soon award bonuses. Organizational Success Increases (OSIs) boosted salaries by 1% and the pay hikes from Superior Contribution Increases (SCIs) ranged from 0.6% to 1.8%. The bonus programs were available to most FAA employees. Allegedly short of cash, the FAA would subsequently impose its version of "organizational success" on departure terminals across the country. Agency staff began receiving their expanded paychecks in February, a mere two months before the flight delays that Mr. Huerta would claim were the unavoidable result of the federal budget sequester.
It also appears that the FAA's flight delays may have been even worse than intended by officials at the FAA's parent bureaucracy, the Department of Transportation. In September 2012, a memo from the office of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHoodinstructed the heads of the department's operating administrations not to award bonuses and specifically not to award OSI or SCI bonuses. The secretary's office also instructed senior officials to plan how to manage their funds given the continuing budget resolution then in effect and the looming budget sequester scheduled for 2013.
So much for that. Mr. Huerta and the FAA appear to have ignored the directive, shovelled out the bonus money, and then turned a budget cut of roughly 4% into a furlough of air-traffic controllers on 10% of their scheduled workdays. Mr. Huerta was only confirmed as FAA Administrator in early January, but he had been serving as the agency's acting head since late 2011. Even if he somehow missed the message from upstairs or didn't understand it, hadn't he heard of the sequester?
The FAA plan appears to have been to inflict maximum inconvenience on passengers, hoping travellers would demand that Congress repeal the sequester and raise taxes to restore the flights. The strategy backfired and President Obama had to sign a narrow fix that required the FAA to implement the same budget reductions at the agency in a more sensible fashion.
Asked for comment, a Transportation spokeswoman tells us that Mr. LaHood's directive was merely the start of agency fiscal planning, not the final word. She added that "the small pay increases in question average 1.6 percent" and went to "about a quarter of FAA employees" because the agency "met more than 93 percent of its performance goals" for fiscal 2012.
In other words, they were a reward for a job well done, which may surprise the traveling public. If Mr. Huerta and his colleagues in FAA management have made a "superior contribution," it is to the cause of that old reliable, bureaucratic self-interest.