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UNITED STATES SENATE: THIS IS IN RESPONSE TO YOUR REQUEST FOR OUR COMMENTS ON S. 957. ARE ACTIVELY ENGAGED IN PROVIDING PRE-FLIGHT. OR WHO ARE THE IMMEDIATE SUPERVISORS OF SUCH EMPLOYEES. AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS OF DOT ARE ELIGIBLE FOR RETIREMENT BENEFITS EARLIER THAN MOST OTHER FEDERAL EMPLOYEES. ANNUITIES FOR CONTROLLERS ARE COMPUTED THE SAME AS FOR OTHER FEDERAL PERSONNEL. CONTROLLERS ARE ASSURED AT LEAST 50 PERCENT OF THEIR AVERAGE PAY. EARLY RETIREMENT WAS EXTENDED TO CONTROLLERS TO HELP MAINTAIN A YOUNG. THE 50 PERCENT MINIMUM ANNUITY WAS INTENDED AS AN ECONOMIC INCENTIVE FOR CONTROLLERS TO RETIRE EARLY. A BENEFIT OF 50 PERCENT OF AVERAGE PAY IS AVAILABLE ONLY AFTER ABOUT 27 YEARS OF SERVICE UNDER THE REGULAR FORMULA.

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B-148903, JAN 16, 1980

SUBJECT: COMMENTS ON S. 957 (FPC-96-1-18)

ABRAHAM A. RIBICOFF, UNITED STATES SENATE:

THIS IS IN RESPONSE TO YOUR REQUEST FOR OUR COMMENTS ON S. 957, A BILL WHICH, IF ENACTED, WOULD PROVIDE THAT CIVILIAN AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE (DOD) SHALL BE TREATED THE SAME AS AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION (DOT) FOR RETIREMENT AND SECOND CAREER TRAINING PROGRAM PURPOSES. THE BILL WOULD ALSO EXPAND THE DEFINITION OF AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER TO INCLUDE THOSE CIVILIAN EMPLOYEES OF DOD AND DOT WHO, IN A FLIGHT SERVICE STATION FACILITY, ARE ACTIVELY ENGAGED IN PROVIDING PRE-FLIGHT, IN-FLIGHT, OR AIRPORT ADVISORY SERVICE TO AIRCRAFT OPERATORS, OR WHO ARE THE IMMEDIATE SUPERVISORS OF SUCH EMPLOYEES.

UNDER PUBLIC LAW 92-297, AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS OF DOT ARE ELIGIBLE FOR RETIREMENT BENEFITS EARLIER THAN MOST OTHER FEDERAL EMPLOYEES. CONTROLLERS CAN RETIRE AT AGE 50 AFTER 20 YEARS OF SERVICE OR AT ANY AGE AFTER 25 YEARS. MOST OTHER FEDERAL EMPLOYEES CAN RETIRE WITH AN IMMEDIATE ANNUITY AT AGE 55 AFTER 30 YEARS OR AGE 60 AFTER 20 YEARS. ANNUITIES FOR CONTROLLERS ARE COMPUTED THE SAME AS FOR OTHER FEDERAL PERSONNEL, BUT CONTROLLERS ARE ASSURED AT LEAST 50 PERCENT OF THEIR AVERAGE PAY.

EARLY RETIREMENT WAS EXTENDED TO CONTROLLERS TO HELP MAINTAIN A YOUNG, VIGOROUS WORKFORCE. THE 50 PERCENT MINIMUM ANNUITY WAS INTENDED AS AN ECONOMIC INCENTIVE FOR CONTROLLERS TO RETIRE EARLY. TO ILLUSTRATE, AFTER 20 YEARS, THE REGULAR RETIREMENT FORMULA PROVIDES 36.25 PERCENT OF AVERAGE PAY AND AFTER 25 YEARS, 46.25 PERCENT. A BENEFIT OF 50 PERCENT OF AVERAGE PAY IS AVAILABLE ONLY AFTER ABOUT 27 YEARS OF SERVICE UNDER THE REGULAR FORMULA.

PUBLIC LAW 92-297 ALSO ESTABLISHED A SECOND CAREER TRAINING PROGRAM TO HELP AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS BEGIN A NEW CAREER ONCE THEY ARE REMOVED FROM DUTY FOR MEDICAL REASONS OR LOSS OF TECHNICAL PROFICIENCY. THIS PROGRAM WAS ENACTED BECAUSE OF THE LIMITED OPPORTUNITIES THAT EXISTED OUTSIDE THE GOVERNMENT FOR THE SPECIALIZED KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE OF CONTROLLERS.

WE HAVE NOT FULLY EXPLORED THE COMPARATIVE DUTIES OF CIVILIAN AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS IN DOD AND DOT. WE ARE AWARE THAT THEY ARE IN THE SAME JOB CLASSIFICATION SERIES AND, ACCORDING TO DOD AND OFFICE OF PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT OFFICIALS, THEIR DUTIES ARE SIMILAR. THUS, PLACING BOTH GROUPS ON AN EQUAL FOOTING WOULD SEEM TO BE APPROPRIATE.

HOWEVER, WE DO QUESTION THE NEED TO EXTEND AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS' BENEFITS TO FLIGHT SERVICE STATION SPECIALISTS. BASIC, MAJOR DIFFERENCES EXIST BETWEEN THE DUTIES AND RESPONSIBLITIES OF AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS AND FLIGHT SERVICE STATION SPECIALISTS, EVEN THOUGH THEY SHARE THE SAME JOB CLASSIFICATION. CONTROLLERS ARE ASSIGNED TO AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL CENTERS AND TOWERS WHERE THEY USE RADAR AND/OR VISUAL OBSERVATION TO MONITOR, INSTRUCT, SEPARATE, AND CONTROL AIR TRAFFIC ON TAKE-OFF, IN- FLIGHT, WHILE WAITING TO LAND, AND IN LANDING. THE TIMELINESS AND ACCURACY OF CONTROLLERS' DECISIONS ARE CRITICAL AND PILOTS ARE GENERALLY REQUIRED TO COMPLY WITH THEIR INSTRUCTIONS.

IN CONTRAST, FLIGHT SERVICE STATION SPECIALISTS ARE LOCATED IN FLIGHT SERVICE STATIONS. THEIR WORK IS PRIMARILY ADVISORY AND ADMINISTRATIVE IN NATURE, AND THEY HAVE NO AUTHORITY TO CONTROL AIR TRAFFIC OR TO REQUIRE PILOTS TO FOLLOW THEIR ADVICE. THEIR DUTIES INCLUDE MAKING WEATHER OBSERVATIONS, COLLECTING WEATHER REPORTS FROM OTHER SOURCES, GIVING PILOTS PRE-FLIGHT WEATHER BRIEFINGS, AND ACCEPTING FLIGHT PLANS FROM PILOTS AND TRANSMITTING THEM BY TELETYPE TO CENTERS AND TERMINALS.

THE EXTENSION OF CONTROLLERS' BENEFITS TO FLIGHT SERVICE STATION SPECIALISTS WAS EXTENSIVELY EXPLORED BY THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION (FAA) IN 1972 AND 1975; THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON POST OFFICE AND CIVIL SERVICE IN 1972; OUR OFFICE IN 1975; AND THE HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON COMPENSATION AND EMPLOYEE BENEFITS IN 1975 AND 1978. IN EACH OF THESE DELIBERATIONS IT WAS RECOGNIZED THAT THE WORK OF THE SPECIALISTS WAS SUBSTANTIALLY DIFFERENT FROM, AND LESS RESPONSIBLE AND STRESSFUL THAN, THAT OF CONTROLLERS. THERE ARE ALSO DIFFERENCES IN GRADE STRUCTURE AND PHYSICAL QUALIFICATION REQUIREMENTS BETWEEN THE TWO GROUPS. IN THE PAST, MANY FORMER CONTROLLERS WHO BECAME MEDICALLY DISQUALIFIED WERE TRANSFERED TO FLIGHT SERVICE STATION SPECIALIST POSITIONS. FORMER CONTROLLERS, NOW FLIGHT SERVICE STATION SPECIALISTS, TOLD US THAT THE DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF SPECIALISTS ARE OF A LESSER MAGNITUDE, SIGNIFICANCE, AND IMPORTANCE THAN THOSE OF CONTROLLERS AND THAT SPECIALISTS DO NOT EXPERIENCE THE SAME STRESSES AND STRAINS AS CONTROLLERS. WE PRESUME THAT THESE FINDINGS WOULD ALSO APPLY TO ANY SPECIALISTS IN DOD.

WE BELIEVE THAT THE EXTENSION OF CONTROLLERS' RETIREMENT BENEFITS TO FLIGHT SERVICE STATION SPECIALISTS WOULD UNNECESSARILY INCREASE RETIREMENT COSTS AND ALSO GIVE RISE TO DEMANDS FOR SIMILAR TREATMENT FROM EMPLOYEES WHO DO NOT HAVE THESE SPECIAL BENEFITS.

IN A DECEMBER 1978 REPORT ENTITLED "NEED FOR OVERALL POLICY AND COORDINATED MANAGEMENT OF FEDERAL RETIREMENT SYSTEMS" (FPCD-78-49) WE CONCLUDED THAT THE LACK OF AN OVERALL FEDERAL RETIREMENT POLICY AND INDEPENDENT, PIECEMEAL DEVELOPMENT HAVE RESULTED IN A PATCHWORK OF SYSTEMS PROVIDING DIFFERENT BENEFITS UNDER DIFFERENT CONDITIONS TO VARIOUS EMPLOYEE GROUPS. THE SPECIAL EARLY RETIREMENT PROVISION FOR CONTROLLERS IS ONLY ONE OF MANY IN WHICH PREFERENTIAL BENEFITS HAVE BEEN GRANTED TO PARTICULAR EMPLOYEE GROUPS. WE CONCLUDED THAT SOME OF THE SPECIAL PROVISIONS MIGHT BE JUSTIFIED BUT THAT, IN MOST CASES, IT WAS DIFFICULT TO CLEARLY IDENTIFY ANY CURRENT MANAGEMENT OR COMPENSATION POLICIES THAT ARE BEING SERVED BY THE SYSTEMS AS THEY ARE NOW DESIGNED. FOR EXAMPLE, WE NOTED THAT MOST CONTROLLERS DO NOT RETIRE EARLY IN ORDER TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE MORE LIBERAL BENEFITS.

WE BELIEVE THE CONGRESS SHOULD BE VERY HESITANT TO GRANT PREFERENTIAL RETIREMENT PROVISIONS TO ADDITIONAL GROUPS OF FEDERAL EMPLOYEES UNTIL IT ESTABLISHES A GUIDING POLICY AS TO THE LEVEL OF BENEFITS FEDERAL RETIREMENT SYSTEMS SHOULD PROVIDE. AS A MINIMUM, A THOROUGH ASSESSMENT OF EXISTING AND PROPOSED EARLY RETIREMENT PROVISIONS SHOULD BE MADE BEFORE ADDING OTHER GROUPS.

IN A JUNE 1978 REPORT ENTITLED "SECOND CAREER TRAINING FOR AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS SHOULD BE DISCONTINUED" (CED-78-131), WE REPORTED THAT THE USE AND SUCCESS OF THE SECOND CAREER PROGRAM HAS BEEN LIMITED. WE FOUND THAT FEW ELIGIBLE CONTROLLERS HAD USED THE PROGRAM TO ENTER SECOND CAREERS AND CONCLUDED THAT THE CONTROLLERS' HEALTH AND AGE, AS WELL AS PREFERENCES FOR LONG-TERM SECURITY AND TRAINING BENEFITS AVAILABLE FROM OTHER FEDERAL PROGRAMS, PROVIDED FORMIDABLE OBSTACLES TO INCREASING THE PROGRAM'S EFFECTIVENESS. IN RESPONSE TO OUR REPORT AND AN INVESTIGATION BY THE STAFF OF THE HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE, THE CONGRESS PRECLUDED THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION (FAA) FROM USING ANY OF ITS APPROPRIATED FUNDS FOR FISCAL YEARS 1979 AND 1980 FOR NEW ENTRANTS TO THE SECOND CAREER TRAINING PROGRAM.

THE CONGRESS ALSO DIRECTED THE FAA TO REEVALUATE THE TRAINING PROGRAM AND TO RECOMMEND PROGRAM CHANGES. FAA CONSIDERED SEVERAL ALTERNATIVES FOR CHANGING THE PROGRAM BUT CONCLUDED THAT IT SHOULD BE DISCONTINUED. FAA BELIEVED THAT OTHER FEDERAL BENEFIT PROGRAMS WERE ADEQUATE TO COMPENSATE CONTROLLERS REMOVED FROM DUTY. THERE ARE SEVERAL BILLS CURRENTLY PENDING BEFORE THE CONGRESS WHICH ARE INTENDED TO IMPROVE THE OPERATION AND ADMINISTRATION OF THE SECOND CAREER TRAINING PROGRAM. WE RECOGNIZE THAT THE PROGRAM COULD BE STRENGTHENED, BUT CONTINUE TO BELIEVE THAT OTHER FEDERAL BENEFIT PROGRAMS ARE AVAILABLE TO ACCOMPLISH THE INTENT OF THE SECOND CAREER PROGRAM. THEREFORE, WE SEE NO NEED FOR ITS CONTINUANCE AND WOULD SIMILARLY OPPOSE EXTENDING THE SECOND CAREER TRAINING PROGRAM TO FLIGHT SERVICE STATION SPECIALISTS.

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