"Creating a Strong Team"
J. Randolph Babbitt, National Harbor, MD
August 5, 2011

National Hispanic Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees Annual Training Conference

Thank you, Sadie (Alvarado) for that introduction.

And good morning everyone.

Thank you for the invitation and I’m glad I could be here with you today.

It’s been a tough couple of weeks.

As you know by now, Congress has adjourned for its August vacation without meeting its responsibility to reauthorize the FAA and put 4,000 of our co-workers back on the job. 

This astonishing failure is outrageous and disappointing.  It causes significant hardship for many members of our FAA family.  And although the situation has reached a stalemate, I want to assure you that we will not give up our fight for a solution until our team is back at full strength.  Our supporters in Congress are working diligently to find a fix, too.

Many of you have asked how you can help your colleagues who are out of work. 

The Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund stands ready to assist FAA employees who are furloughed.  You can donate money to this charity recognized by CFC.  

It pains me to see the effect Congressional inaction is having on our agency and our efforts to improve airports and modernize our air transportation system.

Many of the folks furloughed oversee construction projects at our 3,300 public airports.

We’ve had to issue more than 200 stop work orders and send 70,000 construction workers home from airport work sites without a pay check.

In an economy where we are desperately trying to create jobs, this simply does not make sense.

The impact of Congressional inaction goes beyond the delay of critical airport infrastructure improvements.

We had to furlough 650 people in New Jersey, mostly at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City. These employees are doing important research and testing to advance NextGen.

Programs like ADS-B, weather research and ground-based augmentation systems are affected.

Furthermore, research and testing aimed at integrating unmanned aircraft into our airspace are on hold, as are critical fire and airport safety programs.

Around the country we’ve stopped construction on major airport control towers in Las Vegas, Oakland and Palm Springs, Calif.

We are not going to be able to distribute $2.5 billion in airport improvement grants that’s still due this year to cities around the country. These grants pay to repave runways, improve taxiways and expand terminals to accommodate more passengers.

Now, the taxpayers have entrusted us with operating the safest aviation system in the world.  We will keep doing that – we will not compromise safety. 

We have kept dozens of airport safety inspectors on the job. They were not furloughed because they were deemed essential – but they’re working without pay. They are traveling around the country to inspect airports and they cannot get reimbursed until Congress passes an FAA bill. It’s incredibly unfair. We’re grateful for their professionalism and we’re depending on it at this point.

Everyday that this goes on, we fail to make progress on improving our air transportation system.  It is unconscionable that Congress has flown home for its recess without fixing this problem.

Congress has gone on vacation and left 74,000 Americans who want to work—who do not want a vacation now—without a paycheck for weeks.  

Congress needs to come back and pass a clean FAA bill so we can bring our FAA colleagues back to work. So we can bring construction workers across the country back to work. And so we can get America’s aviation industry moving again.

That being said, I want you to know that I appreciate how dedicated you are. You have kept your focus through all of this so that we can continue to operate the largest and safest aviation system in the world despite these challenges.

I know that everyone here is interested in how we are going to improve the FAA; in how we are going to move forward; in how we are going to create a richer, more diverse FAA.

We have to make changes that will create the foundation for the success of this agency over the next 15 years.  

For example, we need to streamline shared services to avoid duplication. I’ll give you an example of what we mean by this from the information technology area.

The FAA now has five different help desks that employees call for help with their desk top computers. These helps desks are each managed by different offices.

Cutting down on duplication and streamlining the help desks will make us more efficient. It will help us save money and at the same time provide the same or better service.

That’s what we’re talking about when we say that we need to streamline shared services.

We also need to make sure we have the right management structure so we can successfully deliver NextGen. Furthermore, we have to update our outdated governance models. We need to streamline the number of meetings so that we use executives’ time to focus on the important issues facing the agency. Finally, we have to change our human resources model.

Ultimately, what we do comes down to people.  I am committed to selecting the strongest team for the challenges ahead.

I want to share with you how impressed I was when I visited Vaughn College of Aeronautics & Technology in Flushing, N.Y., this year.

The school is next to La Guardia and its student population is dedicated and energized. It’s a majority- minority school. It’s a federally designated Hispanic-serving institution. And Hispanic students make up 38 percent of the student body.

I delivered a graduation speech there in May and received an honorary degree. But the real star of the day  was the class speaker, a young Latina named Jessenia Diaz.

Now talk about someone who is firing on all cylinders.

Her dream since middle school has been to become an air traffic controller.  She’s worked hard at her studies and was the founder and president of the college’s air traffic control organization.  

When she gave her speech, she looked back at me and referred to me as her “future boss.”

And let me tell you, I will be proud to be her boss. We plan to hire her in the coming fiscal year.  

When she spoke, she told her classmates that when most people see a plane in the sky they automatically think “vacation.”

But when she looks up she thinks, “that’s a Boeing 767-200 series.”

That kind of enthusiasm is contagious. I felt energized when I left that school. And I am committed to hiring the right people to the right jobs.

I look forward to working with the National Employee Forum. The group is made up of all of our employee associations—and your President, Sadie Alvarado, plays a leading role. I’m glad to hear the forum is working on its charter and on a plan for how it can assist in recruitment.

I am open to ideas and welcome help in identifying and selecting the right candidates from the many thousands of applications we receive.

We want you to bring quality candidates to our attention.

I hope that you have a productive finish to this year’s conference. And I would once again ask you to keep our furloughed colleagues in mind as we go through the next weeks in working to get everyone back on the job.

Thank you for your attention, and I’ll be happy to take questions.