This Statement of Administration Policy provides the Administration's views on the Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, FY 2000, as reported by the House Appropriations Committee. Your consideration of the Administration's views would be appreciated.
The Administration appreciates the Committee's efforts to accommodate many of the Administration's priorities within its 302(b) allocation, particularly the funding provided for Amtrak. However, the Administration is concerned about some of the choices made necessary by this allocation.
The President's FY 2000 Budget proposes levels of discretionary spending that meet important national needs while conforming to the Bipartisan Budget Agreement by making savings proposals in mandatory and other programs available to help finance vital spending needs. Congress has approved and the President has signed into law nearly $29 billion of such offsets in appropriations legislation since 1995. The Administration urges the Congress to consider such proposals as the FY 2000 appropriations process moves forward.
The Administration proposes to meet important transportation safety, mobility, and environmental requirements by reallocating a portion of the increased spending permitted by higher-than-anticipated highway excise taxes. Under this proposal, every State would receive at least as much funding as was assumed when the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century was enacted. Last year, Congress chose to reallocate limited funding within the highway "guarantee." The House is encouraged to build upon this by enacting the Administration's proposal as a means to fund these important priorities.
The Administration is concerned that the Committee bill could compromise the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) operations and modernization programs, reduce highway and motor carrier safety, and under-fund other important programs. The House could partially accommodate the funding increases recommended below by adhering more closely to the President's request for the Airport Improvement Program, High Speed Rail, Coast Guard Alteration of Bridges, Coast Guard capital improvements, and other programs.
The Committee is commended for permitting transit discretionary grants to be allocated according to the needs-based formula agreed to in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, instead of arbitrarily restricting individual States' funding. The Committee is commended for not prematurely encouraging the closure of Coast Guard training facilities without regard to the results of the ongoing Coast Guard review as to the best use of those facilities.
The following highlights our specific concerns with the Committee bill.
Aviation Safety and Modernization
The Administration strongly urges the House to fully fund the Administration's request for FAA Operations. The $114 million, or two-percent, reduction made by the Committee would force the FAA to close low-level towers, defer hiring of safety and security personnel needed to meet the demands of increased air travel, and possibly slow air travel. The Administration is concerned with the Committee's reduction of $6.6 million in FAA's request for rental payments to the General Services Administration. Since rent is a mandatory payment, FAA would have to reduce operating spending further to absorb this reduction.
The House is also urged to restore the $119 million, or five-percent, reduction to the FAA Facilities and Equipment account. The Committee's funding level could undermine our National Airspace System modernization program. Safety projects as well as critically-needed capacity enhancing projects would be delayed, increasing future air travel delays. For example, the Administration urges the House to provide the requested $17 million in critically-needed funding to ensure timely implementation of a Global Positioning System (GPS) modernization plan that will help enable transition to a more efficient, GPS-based air navigation system.
The Administration supports the Committee's decision to eliminate the General Fund subsidy for FAA Operations but urges the Congress to enact a user fee system to finance the agency. Such a system would improve the FAA's efficiency and effectiveness by creating new incentives for it to operate in a business-like manner.
Motor Carrier Safety
The Secretary of Transportation recently announced a comprehensive Motor Carrier Safety Action Plan to implement much-needed improvements in truck safety. The need for these improvements has been recognized by the Appropriations Committee and Congress overall, the Department of Transportation Inspector General, and an independent assessment conducted by former Congressman Mineta. The House is urged to provide the additional $50 million for the National Motor Carrier Safety Grant program to undertake the improvements in enforcement, research, and data activities designed to increase safety on our Nation's roads and highways.
The Administration is concerned that the Committee has provided $36 million less than the President has requested for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Operations and Research account. This funding reduction would limit important research activities on advanced air bags, crash worthiness, and the enhanced testing proposed in the New Car Assessment program to make better car safety information available to the public.
The Administration strongly opposes, and urges the House to drop, the prohibition of work on the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. These standards have resulted in a doubling of the fuel economy of the car fleet, saving the nation billions of gallons of oil and the consumer billions of dollars. Because prohibitions such as this have been enacted in recent years, the Department of Transportation has been unable to fully analyze this important issue. These prohibitions have limited the availability of important information that directly influences the Nation's environment.
The Committee is commended for funding Amtrak at $571 million, the President's requested level and the level called for in Amtrak's "glidepath" to self-sufficiency, and providing Amtrak with the flexibility to spend capital funds wisely by adopting for Amtrak the same definition of capital as used by transit grantees. The Administration would oppose efforts to fund Amtrak below this level because lower levels would jeopardize Amtrak's ability to achieve self-sufficiency by 2003 and could delay introduction of high-speed rail service in the Northeast Corridor and force other service reductions and route closures.
The Administration is disappointed that the Committee bill funds transit formula grants at $212 million below the President's request and the Transportation Community and Preservation Pilot program (TCSP) at $25 million, or 50 percent, below the request. Further, the earmarking of the TCSP program would hinder the goal of improving land use by not permitting the development and identification of innovative new approaches. Finally, the Administration is disappointed that the Committee bill does not direct additional funding to the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program. These livability programs are important components of an Administration effort to provide communities with the tools and resources they need to combat congestion and sprawl.
Job Access and Reverse Commute
The Administration is disappointed that the Committee has provided only $75 million -- half of the amount authorized and requested -- for the Job Access and Reverse Commute program. This program is a critical component of the Administration's welfare-to-work effort and is significantly over-subscribed at present. Demand is expected to increase as more communities around the country begin to see how effective the program can be in helping individuals make a successful transition from welfare to work.
The Administration is concerned about the Committee's earmarks to continue operations of the Long Island, New York, and Muskegon, Michigan, air facilities and to establish an additional air facility at Waukegan, Illinois. The Coast Guard has concluded, based on careful review, that none of these facilities are necessary to meet its search and rescue coverage standards. By forcing the Coast Guard to spend nearly $9 million on these facilities, the House is effectively reducing funding for higher priority Coast Guard activities, such as improving boat station readiness nationwide.
Report Language Issue
The Administration is concerned with report language that would not fund the controller-in-charge differential, which was part of the carefully crafted air traffic controller agreement reached last year.