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FAA in DC wants more control of Egg Harbor Township tech center; lawmakers push back

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Tech Center

The Federal Aviation Administration William J. Hughes Technical Center is situated 10 miles northwest of Atlantic City on more than 5,000 acres. The complex includes Atlantic City International Airport and the National Aviation Research and Technology Park.

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Saying the future of aviation research is at stake, New Jersey’s congressional delegation is undertaking a bipartisan fight to stop the Federal Aviation Administration from removing the independence of its William J. Hughes Technical Center.

The FAA has submitted a reprogramming request to split research and development, testing and evaluation, and labs and facilities into three separate organizations, each to be overseen from FAA headquarters in Washington, D.C., according to a letter of concern from U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Robert Menendez to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson.

“While these changes can be implemented in a way that maintains the overall function of the Tech Center, we are concerned that proposed changes may extend far beyond what is required, and may jeopardize the integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness of the nation’s premier aviation research facility,” wrote Booker and Menendez, both Democrats.

“Any changes that remove jobs or diminish the prominence of the Tech Center could undermine efforts to revitalize this distressed economy,” the senators wrote of the Atlantic County region. Such a move also could jeopardize the county’s attempts to diversify its economy by creating an aviation hub with the tech center and Atlantic City International Airport, the senators wrote.

The tech center and its tenants — including Atlantic City International and the National Aviation Research and Technology Park — contribute $900 million a year in economic activity to seven counties in South Jersey, double the amount of just five years ago, according to a report released by the tech center early this year.

They also are responsible for 5,240 jobs, according to an economic impact analysis released in October.

“The FAA recently sent a proposal to Congress for its review that would make changes to certain FAA offices as required by a 2018 law,” a tech center spokesperson wrote in response to questions Wednesday. “The proposal sent to Congress would NOT result in any employee job losses or require geographic relocations.”

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, said Thursday he’s opposed to the reorganization, and it’s important that people in South Jersey not panic.

“The FAA has tried this two or three times before,” Van Drew said, and each time has been stopped from doing it. “They have proposed a radical agency-wide reorganization that would still be harmful to the Tech Center and people believe the whole aviation sector.”

The proposal Van Drew and others are fighting would “fracture it and make it totally subservient to DC offices,” Van Drew said. “The reason they have been able to do the good work it has, is because it has that level of independence.”

Unions at the tech center oppose it, Van Drew said.

No tech center union leaders could be reached for comment Friday.

Under an amendment last year to the transportation and appropriations bill, negotiated by the New Jersey congressional delegation, the FAA is required to go through Congress for reorganization, Van Drew said.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larson, D-Wash., who is chair of the Aviation subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee, supports keeping the tech center independent, Van Drew said.

The 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act required the FAA to establish an assistant administrator position to oversee agency research and development. It also required the FAA to establish a chief technology officer position in the Air Traffic Organization, according to the tech center.

“If the relevant House and Senate committees sign off on it, an implementation plan will be created and the FAA would work with our labor partners to ensure contractual labor obligations are fully met,” the tech center statement said.

Booker and Menendez acknowledged in their letter that the 2018 law requires the FAA to make some changes.

“As FAA plans for the future of the NextGen program, some changes within FAA will be necessary ... (due to) requirements in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018,” the senators wrote. “As emerging technologies in Unmanned Aircraft Systems and developments in commercial aviation continue to advance, the Tech Center is positioned as essential to the future of aviation. The central management, yet collaborative coordination, of each of these interdependent functions creates a synergy that allows for more effective and efficient operations.”

Booker and Menendez said the centralized model that keeps the tech center independent “is in line with best practices for research centers and is utilized at many other research facilities across several federal agencies and departments.”

REPORTER: Michelle Brunetti Post

609-272-7219

mpost@pressofac.com

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Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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