Disseminating $10 billion
Senior FAA airport officials talk about the task before them
By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
BALTIMORE — When President Clinton signed the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment & Reform Act for the 21st Century — or, AIR-21 — into law this spring, he capped a years-long industry initiative. Yet, dissemination of nearly $10 billion (through FY03) for the Airport Improvement Program now falls on an increasingly strapped Federal Aviation Administration. Recently, Woodie Woodward, FAA's Acting Associate Administrator for Airports, and Catherine Lang, FAA's director of Airport Planning & Programming, met with AIRPORT BUSINESS to discuss FAA's role in the changing airport funding environment. Here's an edited transcript of that discussion.
AIRPORT BUSINESS: It would seem that your immediate challenge is taking care of Fiscal Year 2000.
Lang: Absolutely. But at least most of the airport community knows that in the March preceding a new fiscal year is when we begin development of the capital investment plan, so we actually began work in March. When the bill was passed, we were pretty far along in that process but we had to immediately do a couple of things. We had initiated a program based on what was then current law, and AIR-21 at least for this year did make some formula changes which affected how the money could be distributed. So we had to go in and immediately re-calculate all of the money based on those formula changes and then go back and recalibrate the capital program. That's all done.
In a normal fiscal year it takes us about two to three months to begin actually putting money out the door. The Administrator asked us to get it out three to four weeks after the bill was signed and that was achieved, so money is now being programmed at airports around the country.
AB: The U.S. House is currently looking at approving an FAA budget for FY01 that shows a one-third increase. Any comment?
Lang: AIR-21 was the authorization act; it's still subject to annual appropriation. And the appropriators have looked at AIR-21 and have come back with their marks. So, the marks are thus far tracking, at least for AIP purposes, with what was in AIR-21.
AB: One thing we've been hearing in recent years, particularly from the Administrator, is FAA doesn't have enough money to do what it's been charged to do. It would seem like Congress is listening.
Woodward: I think the airports program now will do pretty well. Other parts of the agency still have some issues. The agency as a whole still has some funding problems.
Lang: We're very happy that our airport's organization budget, which is paid for out of AIP, was increased, because we took a pretty drastic cut this year.
AB: How many people at FAA actually work in positions related to the dissemination of AIP funds?
Woodward: Nationwide, we have 485 authorized positions, though we aren't quite up to that. Those people work not only on the dissemination of grant funds but in environmental areas, airport certification and inspection, a variety of activities.
Lang: Half of our workforce is the safety inspection workforce, dealing with airport certification requirements. The other half is involved in programming and planning activities, including AIP, PFCs, environmental. Frankly, all of those functions, I think, inform how we make our investment decisions.
The agency actually has very highly developed investment tools that we use. We have the national priority system, and its actually built on all kinds of state and local planning procedures against which we overlay our investment tools. The priority system works, I'd say, for the vast majority of our selections. We're audited on it.
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