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  Daily Briefing  
September 2, 2003

Lawmakers, union push to keep flight mapping in government

By Amelia Gruber

Federal workers in charge of mapping U.S. airspace for pilots and air traffic controllers are hoping that lawmakers will add language protecting their jobs from competitive sourcing studies to the 2004 Transportation, Treasury and General Government Appropriations bill, scheduled for markup on Sept. 3, a union representative said Tuesday.

American Federation of Government Employees Local 2703, which represents cartographers and others in the Federal Aviation Administration's National Aeronautical Charting Office (NACO), has gathered support from Democratic senators, but has not had as much luck persuading “key” Republicans that the language is necessary, said Ron Carberry, president of the local.

Maryland senators last week urged their colleagues to amend the appropriations bill to block funding necessary for the FAA, NACO's parent agency, to study roughly 220 aeronautical mapping and data processing positions for competitions. The jobs, classified as “commercial” under the 2002 Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act inventories, should remain “inherently governmental,” Democratic Maryland Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes said in an Aug. 27 letter to leaders of the Senate Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and General Government Appropriations.

“We think it's a matter of national security,” the senators told their colleagues.

NACO workers supply data and charts of U.S. airspace to both civilian and military pilots and air traffic controllers. This information is “essential for flight safety, national security and compliance with FAA regulations,” Mikulski and Sarbanes wrote. “Clearly, the important work performed by NACO should remain under the direct control of the FAA, which is responsible for the safe and efficient use of airspace,” they added.

“NACO has thrived at FAA, and it is an efficient operation,” the letter continued. “NACO has neither missed a publication deadline nor been found liable in its 77-year history, despite being responsible for continually producing and updating a wide range of complicated aeronautical charts and chart products. Because NACO is a perfect fit for the mission and organization of the FAA and because it is such an efficient operation, FAA should not expend scarce budget dollars reviewing the function for privatization.”

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, an aviation industry group with more than 390,000 members, supports protections against privatizing NACO's cartographers and data experts.

“Aeronautical charts and related publications are essential sources of information for the safety of flight, national defense and compliance with FAA regulations,” AOPA President Phil Boyer told lawmakers during an April hearing conducted by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation. “Aeronautical charting products directly support the operation of the air traffic control system and the National Airspace System infrastructure, and it is therefore logical that the program's priorities remain under the direct control of the FAA.”

Terry Laydon, head of NACO's mapping and charting operations, also supports shielding the 220 positions from competitions, and filed an appeal in the spring asking the FAA to reclassify the positions as inherently governmental.

It is unusual for management to take such a stance, Carberry said. “[Laydon] is one of only two managers that I've heard of who filed [FAIR Act] appeals.”

The FAA rejected Laydon's appeal, and another filed by AFGE, saying that although NACO's cartographers exercise judgments about data handed to air traffic controllers, these judgments do not affect policy-making at a broad level. Also, commercial airline pilots already supplement NACO maps with information from private companies, the FAA contended.

Charts produced by NACO “clearly aid and support the dual mission of safety and security,” wrote FAA Chief Financial Officer John Hennigan in an April 28 letter rejecting Laydon's appeal. “However, activities in support of an agency's mission do not automatically become inherently governmental activities.”

Attempts to add language protecting NACO workers from public-private competitions to the FAA reauthorization bill also failed, despite support from Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Carberry said.

But Carberry said he is optimistic that even if current attempts to add protections to the Treasury General appropriations bill fail, lawmakers will ultimately pass the protections. AFGE will begin lobbying the lawmakers at an earlier stage in the appropriations process next time around, he said.

“We protect lives and property,” Carberry said. There are not many private companies in a position to bid on the mapping work in the first place, he noted. The few in a position to compete for the work may not want to assume full liability for accidents caused by mistakes in maps or data, he added.

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