The Power of Bureaucracy

by Craig Fuller
President & CEO Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association

We all remember civics lessons when we were taught that the government has three branches –the executive, legislative, and judicial. But today it seems there’s a fourth branch of government emerging – the administrative.

Federal agencies are nothing new. Neither are the career bureaucrats who keep the wheels of government turning despite the vagaries of party politics and election cycles. What is new is just how much power these agencies have.

In fact, the Supreme Court recently determined that federal agencies have authority to establish their own jurisdiction (Arlington v. FCC). That’s a power that some believe has been, and should be, left to Congress.

Congress may make the laws, but very often the bureaucrats make the rules. And those rules create the environment in which the general aviation community operates.

According to an article written by law professor Jonathan Turley for the Washington Post, if you go back to 2007 when we have all the statistics, Congress enacted 138 public laws. But federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules that same year. And while membership in the General Aviation Caucus in the House of Representatives and the Senate grows week after week, there is no counterpart among government agencies that affect our flying, including the FAA, TSA, DOT, and DHS.

Why do we care? Because many federal agencies operate with minimal accountability and little oversight with the result that they charge ahead with new rules that can have a significant negative impact on the user community.

You may remember the decision to stop aircraft operators from blocking their N-numbers to prevent their movements from being tracked by the public in real time. We fought to overturn this rule and ultimately succeeded, but a more reasoned approach to decision-making would have saved everyone time, trouble, and money.

Of course, we’re just as concerned about what doesn’t happen. Long delays, administrative inaction, and the choice to simply ignore the concerns of pilots and aviation consumers are equally disturbing.

There is a notion among regulators that change means risk. Yet, the world around us is changing rapidly, and increasingly it is the resistance to change that brings real risks. When new technologies can make flying safer, why are regulators often so reluctant to accept the evidence and support their use?

At AOPA, we have a team of government affairs experts who stay in close contact with regulatory agencies that affect our flying. These experts actively participate in dozens of working groups, councils, and committees, where they advocate for the needs of general aviation on issues like unleaded fuel, protecting ELTs, reform of aircraft certification rules, and the third-class medical waiver.

We’ll keep working to ensure that the regulators understand and account for the needs of GA pilots and owners, and you can count on us to keep you informed about the actions of the “administrative branch” of government.

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