Reality of Sequester Hits Home for Some Iowa Federal Workers

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

WATERLOO, Iowa- The impact of the federal sequester fight hit home for hundreds of federal workers in Iowa on Wednesday. That's after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sent out letters notifying both control tower and technical workers at airports that furloughs to make up federal budget cuts start a month from now.

FAA workers who got the notice will get 11 days, or 88 hours total, of unpaid time off between early April 7th and September 30th. The letters that went out to 47,000 FAA workers nationwide will hit those workers in the pocketbook. But the impact on the flying public at this point is still a question mark.

Davon Ebert of Waterloo is one of the FAA Iowa employees who got the bad news in an e-mail. Ebert is a technology operator who keeps communication, radar and other behind-the-scenes aviation equipment functioning. He's also the union rep for about two dozen Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS) workers at airports in Waterloo, Dubuque and Cedar Rapids. Ebert said FAA managers will have to balance the need for budget cuts with keeping the flying public safe.

"That's going to be the challenge, maintaining the safety of the national air space system so the passengers in the sky and people on the ground remain safe and secure," Ebert said.

Ebert said it's too soon to know all the details about how the furlough timing will work. But he expects his tech operations members to defer some preventive maintenance in favor of keeping critical systems running.

The FAA warned earlier that control towers in Waterloo, Dubuque and Sioux City might close if staffing becomes tight. Des Moines could also lose overnight control tower service. All flying operations would continue with flights directed by controllers in other locations. FAA public affairs officials had no new information about tower changes following news of the furlough letters.

Some flyers in Cedar Rapids who heard about the letters sympathized with federal workers about the loss of pay. But they also expected the impact to eventually reach the public.

Joanne Johnson, who was waiting for a traveler in Cedar Rapids, said "it will impact the public, but I think when it's your paycheck it has a bigger impact than just waiting a little longer to get through a line."

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has warned that airport lines could get longer if TSA workers must take furloughs. But officials did not say if similar letters have gone out to those federal airport workers yet.
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