Richard Soucy is one of hundreds of independent contractors left without work since a “stop-work” order was issued July 26 at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township. No relief came from Congress on Tuesday.
Soucy, 64, of the Smithville section of Galloway Township, has spent the last seven days running errands and taking his girlfriend to various doctor’s appointments. But he’d rather be working.
“Sitting here at home, fixing furniture and washing my floors is not going to do anything for NextGen,” he said Tuesday. “I’m bored.”
The stoppage at the technical center stems from the Federal Aviation Administration’s shutdown that went into effect at midnight July 22, after members of Congress failed to pass a short-term FAA extension. A partisan stalemate that has partially shut down the FAA will continue into September, stopping airport construction projects and depriving federal coffers of potentially more than $1 billion in uncollected ticket taxes, after congressional attempts to reach a deal fell through on Tuesday.
Had the extension occurred, it would have been the 21st for the administration, which has operated without a full, four-year authorization bill since 2007, Rep. Frank LoBiondo said in a press release Tuesday.
LoBiondo, who serves on the House Aviation Subcommittee, said there was no reason for the deal to fall through, and the “losers in this preventable situation” are the furloughed employees.
“It is inexcusable that Congress has fled Washington without completing its most basic function of keeping the government working,” he said in a press release.
Democratic leaders said they were unhappy with the continued shutdown and blamed their counterparts for the delay.
“It is inexcusable that House Republicans have turned their backs on thousands of hard-working people, in a move that even a Senate Republican called ‘wrong’ and ‘not honorable’,” said U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, a member of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said in a press release.
To date, 27 contracts have been stopped at the Egg Harbor Township center.
Soucy, an engineer with Massachusetts-based Engility Corp., has spent the past several years doing data analysis for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast technology. The technology would bring real-time surveillance information into the cockpit of an equipped aircraft.
He was working as part of the ongoing NextGen Air Traffic Control System project to create new technologies that could change the nation’s system from ground-based to satellite-based communications. Currently, pilots rely on ground control officials to report what they see in the sky. This technology essentially would eliminate the middle-man.
“The equipped aircraft sees the other equipped aircraft,” Soucy said. “This is all new technology.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., initially told reporters Tuesday that he would be willing to accept a House Republican bill to restore the FAA’s operating authority even though it contained cuts in subsidies for rural air service that some Democrats oppose. But he reversed course after a possible deal with House Republicans fell through.
The Senate was due to leave for its August recess Tuesday. The House left Monday.
“Republicans are playing reckless games with airline safety,” Reid said in a statement. “We should not let ideology interfere with making sure that Americans’ air travel runs as smoothly and safely as possible.”
Of the 4,000 federal employees furloughed, 639 worked at the technical center in Egg Harbor Township. And Soucy said more people have been affected than the federal tally reported.
“The contractors have families, they have bills,” he said. “We’re also people.”
Soucy said keeping the furloughed contractors in limbo will result in the delay of important research.
“This NextGen project is important,” he said. “A lot of what is going to happen in the next five or six years depends on this research.”
As more South Jersey residents face another month without steady employment and income, government officials continue to point the finger at each other. Republicans blame Democrats for the shutdown, saying they have been unwilling to accept minor cuts to a rural air services program long criticized as wasteful. But Democrats said the air service cuts are being used as leverage to force them to give in on a labor provision in a separate, long-term FAA funding bill that would make it more difficult for airline workers to unionize.
President Barack Obama implored Congress to settle the dispute before lawmakers leave Washington for the August recess, calling the stalemate “another Washington-inflicted wound on America.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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