The White House claims the sequester applies to the budget category known as "projects, programs and activities" and thus it lacks flexibility. Not so: This is a political pose to make the sequester more disruptive. Legally speaking, the sequester applies at a more general level known as "accounts." The air traffic account includes 15,000 controllers out of 31,000 employees. The White House could keep the controllers on duty simply by allocating more furlough days to these other non-essential workers.
Instead, the FAA is even imposing the controller furlough on every airport equally, not prioritizing among the largest and busiest airports. San Francisco's Napa Valley airport with no commercial service will absorb the same proportion of the cuts as the central New York radar terminal, which covers La Guardia, JFK and Newark International, as well as MacArthur, Teterboro, New Haven, Republic and other regional fields.
The FAA still uses ground radar and voice-based communications that were the best technology the 1950s had to offer. Many planes are now equipped with advanced avionics that enable more direct and precise flight paths, but they aren't allowed to fly these faster, safer routes because the FAA can't track their navigation methods.
If even one of these allegations is accurate, this surely is an agency that needs a thorough house-cleaning.
For more than a decade the FAA has promised to modernize and make the civil aviation system more efficient and reliable, but the only things it has reliably generated are delays or cost overruns or usually both. The project, known as NextGen, is four years off schedule with no end in sight.
The FAA's troubles are the result of bad management and a lack of oversight, according to multiple Department of Transportation Inspector General audits. A 2011 investigation found that one part of NextGen ran $330 million over budget—or half of the FAA sequester—and then the FAA paid the contractor responsible $150 million in bonuses that were supposed to be an incentive for making the budget targets. The overruns are now approaching $500 million, and that's merely one item.