FAA Curbing Spending; Layoffs Possible

United Press International

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration has imposed "severe constraints" on spending, possibly forcing employee layoffs or furloughs, because of expected budget reductions, internal agency documents disclosed Friday.

The cost-cutting measures, which include agencywide hiring freezes in some employment categories, were outlined in orders signed by FAA Administrator Donald D. Engen and distributed Thursday to employees nationwide.

Controllers Exempted

The orders exempt air traffic controllers, aviation inspectors and security specialists from the hiring freezes, allowing the FAA to proceed with its plans to augment those work forces.

But the orders could lead to cutbacks in the 11,000 agency technicians who maintain and repair critical air traffic control systems at a time when internal studies show that the number of those specialists is rapidly dwindling.

Reaction from the aviation community included charges by an employees' union that the plan is a "fiscal act of terrorism."

The orders were issued at the close of a year in which more than 2,000 people were killed worldwide in plane crashes.

"I have today imposed severe constraints on contracting, travel and other activities," Engen said, asserting that the measures are necessary because Congress authorized $4.9 billion for the 1986 FAA budget, $55 million less than the agency had requested.

Engen noted that an additional 5% budget reduction is expected in March under the new Gramm-Rudman budget-balancing law, which mandates across-the-board spending cuts if Congress fails to make adequate spending reductions.

Safety a 'Top Priority'

"While we will attempt to avoid doing so, reductions in force and furloughs are possibilities, the extent of which cannot be determined until we have our final budget numbers," Engen said. "Meanwhile, I ask for your support in holding spending to a minimum while we continue to keep safety as our top priority."

Stephen Hayes, a spokesman for the FAA, refused to give further details of the cost-cutting plan.

"The orders were sent as internal guidance that we have provided to the field. I think we are not going to go into a lot of detail on it."

He said that the orders give "short-term" spending guidance to FAA officials in field offices while plans are formulated on how to deal with Gramm-Rudman requirements.

"It's prudent to immediately start to reduce spending," he said.

The electronics technicians who could be affected by the hiring freeze maintain and repair air traffic control computers, radar, radio and landing systems.

FAA studies show that, by 1994, the agency could lose more than 50% of the technicians to retirement.

Fiscal 'Terrorism'

Howard Johannssen, president of Professional Airways Systems Specialists, the technicians' union, said of the possible layoffs, "This is a fiscal act of terrorism."

Engen's orders will "induce a whole new slate of broader causes (of safety problems) that is going to cause more and more disaster," Johannssen said. The orders will "find out what the natural disaster level is in the name of fiscal responsibility."

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