DOT and Budget Cuts

Ray Lahood, Secretary of Transportation, says that DOT will have to cut nearly one billion dollars as part of the “sequester” that goes in effect if the President and Congress can’t agree on a budget. First of all, let’s just call the sequester what it is, a budget cut.

Now, no one wants to cut their budget. No person, no family, no company, no governmental agency. But when you’ve got runaway spending, no budget, and lots of debt there is really only one intelligent course of action… you spend less.

Secretary Lahood says the following in his statement on the budget cuts,

At DOT we will need to cut nearly a billion dollars, which will affect dozens of our programs. Over $600 million of those cuts will need to come from the Federal Aviation Administration – the agency that controls and manages our nation’s skies.

DOT has submitted a FY 2013 budget of about $74.5 Billion. Of that, the FAA accounts for about $15.2 Billion, or about 20% of the DOT’s budget. If the FAA accounts for 20% of the DOT budget why would they be expected to shoulder 60% of the DOT’s budget cuts ($600 million in FAA cuts divided by one billion dollars in DOT cuts)? Why so disproportionate?

Lahood only makes matters worse as he continues:

As a result of these cuts, the vast majority of the FAA’s nearly 47,000 employees will be furloughed for approximately one day per pay period until the end of the fiscal year and in some cases it could be as many as two days.

To save $600 Million the DOT is going to basically take it out of FAA employee’s paychecks. The FY 2013 budget for FAA includes over one billion for NextGen, the new radar and air traffic control system. Surely that can be trimmed to prevent cutting paychecks of employees.

For that matter, if we broaden our look at the entirety of the DOT’s budget we can find a lot of areas to cut spending without impacting the FAA so deeply and cutting into employee paychecks. The FY 2013 budget calls for $4 Billion in spending, under the Federal Highway Administration, on the Livable Communities Program.

Again, from Secretary Lahood:

Livability means being able to take your kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, drop by the grocery or Post Office, go out to dinner and a movie, and play with your kids at the part – all without having to get in your car.

So the Federal Highway Administration is spending $4 Billion on getting people out of their cars? That may be a good and responsible use of DOT dollars, but it sure seems like low-hanging fruit compared to FAA employee paychecks when it comes to budget cuts.

This seems like a great example of Problem #3, Politics Trumps Solutions. Secretary Lahood’s statement is nothing more than another swing in the Washington DC political fistfight over spending cuts. The cynical side of me says the Secretary of Transportation is proposing his cuts so as to provoke as much alarm as possible. Cutting pay to FAA employees and cutting the hours at Air Traffic Control towers is certainly going to sound ghastly once the media runs with it.

Why isn’t anyone challenging the decision-making behind these cuts? I find it hard to believe that the DOT can’t absorb what would amount to a 1.3% cut in their FY 2013 budget.

2 thoughts on “DOT and Budget Cuts

  1. Matt Moore

    “Now, no one wants to cut their budget. No person, no family, no company, no governmental agency. But when you’ve got runaway spending, no budget, and lots of debt there is really only one intelligent course of action… you spend less.”

    First, there are many that would argue that you can always tax more 🙂

    Second, I would argue that we don’t have runaway spending overall within DOT but rather we’re not spending enough in the right places. Just take a look at the 2009 ASCE report cards on US infrastructure and there is so much wrong with our current systems that needs fixing before you even get to green initiatives or high-speed train links. (And don’t get me wrong, I personally love high-speed trains.)

    (The new 2013 report is coming out in less than a month.)

    I completely agree that the Secretary’s statement is political in nature; after all, he has a specific boss to answer to and a certain White House message that must be maintained. But beyond any political stances stands the reality of either doing more with less or paying more for maintaining (or hopefully improving) what we have. As usual, the road to a reasonable solution (pun intended) is somewhere in the middle.

    1. admin Post author

      I completely agree that we don’t have a runaway spending problem within DOT itself. And I completely agree that we aren’t spending in the right places. The DOT budget is spread too thin across an array of programs that I think distract from the simple idea of roads, rails, airports, seaports. If we restricted that money to cold, hard infrastructure projects we’d be much better off.

      And once again, I agree about fixing our current systems and upgrading them before playing around with green initiatives and high speed rail links. I too am a big fan of rail travel, but only where it makes sense.

      I’ll be sure to post up the 2013 report once it comes up.


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