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    Repiglican Roast

    A spirited discussion of public policy and current issues

    Location: The mouth of being

    I'm furious about my squandered nation.

    Monday, June 18, 2007

    The FSS Mess, Privatization and the Lack of Personal Responsibility

    Somewhere, somehow, Marion Blakey and her Administration seem to have lost sight of their mandate to provide for the safety of American citizens who travel by air. Perhaps it was when she made the decision to get rid of those pesky general aviation aircraft by starting the user-fee juggernaut. Perhaps it was earlier, when someone saw that one of the portions of the FAA, the Flight Service Station system, was carrying out its designated function rapidly, accurately, safely, and generally working in a nearly flawless manner. Naturally the reaction was that such a situation was intolerable. Because ongoing competence in the field of safe aviation could not be allowed to continue, the FAA went through a grueling and expensive process to fix it. In October of 2005, ostensibly to save the taxpayers money, it entered into a $1.7 billion contract to "privatize" (is that really a verb?) a portion of the FAA that worked well. I know, children ... one would think that if private industry could do a government function better than the government, then the FAA would have privatized one of the parts of the FAA that doesn't work. Children, such a thought would require us to apply that evil concept, logic, to the operation of political machinery. Children, you know very well that logic should never be used when traveling through the looking glass into privatization land.

    The $1.7 billion contract with Lockheed-Martin was to save 20% off the cost of having the work done by FAA personnel, who apparently were evil, money-grubbing government employees who had committed the mortal sin of competence. Of course, there were those sticks-in-the-mud who felt that the numbers didn't add up. After all, you have to pay enough to hire the kind of talent needed to staff the Flight Service Stations, located where the briefers could have detailed local knowledge of the prevailing weather patterns, and equip them with the latest computers, and finally allow for the kind of profit that shareholders will demand (on the order of 8-15%). How can Lockheed-Martin do this for less than the folks who have been doing it so very well for so many years without the cost of a return to the stockholding mutual funds?

    Well, those who were skeptical were told to close their eyes, click their heels together and get with the program. Even when the FAA's own internal investigative folks looked at the contract and pronounced that there were grave doubts as to whether Lockheed-Martin could pull it off, Marion Blakey and her friends decided that such talk was defeatist and shouldn't be considered. Besides, Lockheed-Martin contributed nicely to the appropriate politicians, so a politically appointed sort doesn't want to make waves, even if she is in a job involving air safety. Nevertheless, for people whose sole purpose in employment is air safety, to shrug off an objective report by one's own agency that indicates that a critical safety function is imperiled is, at least in my opinion, reckless and irresponsible in handling our money. If someone dies as a result, it may become criminal.

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