Top Republicans in Congress have accused US transportation secretary Ray LaHood and FAA of “resorting to scare tactics” in determining how to comply with mandatory budget cuts.

House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee ranking member John Thune (R-S.D.) told LaHood in a joint letter sent Thursday that FAA could find areas of savings that don’t include furloughs and air traffic control service reductions. As part of the US government’s budget sequestration that took effect last week, FAA is mandated to cut more than $620 million for the remainder of the federal fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

LaHood and FAA administrator Michael Huerta have said the agency will be forced to furlough most FAA employees one day every two weeks starting in April and make other across-the-board cuts that will inevitably result in flight delays.

Shuster and Thune said FAA appears to have engaged in “little to no planning” to prepare for sequestration, adding that “several areas ripe for belt-tightening” have not been explored. They cited a $179 million employee travel budget and “clear mismanagement and waste on air traffic control modernization contracts.” 

Speaking Wednesday at the Aviation Forecast and Policy Summit in Washington DC, FAA assistant administrator-policy, international affairs and environment Julie Oettinger said it is “enormously challenging” for the agency to make the required cuts. “We have limited flexibility,” she explained, adding that travel, training and office supplies expenses were “reduced significantly” in anticipation of sequestration.

“Unfortunately, that only gets us so far,” she said. “The idea of implementing furloughs is something we don’t take lightly.”

Shuster and Thune maintained that FAA “has the authority and the flexibility in its budget … to pay for air traffic controllers and other personnel and to avoid resorting to furloughs.” They added, “Thoroughly examining real areas of potential savings, and not resorting to scare tactics and the punishment of employees and the public for political purposes, is the only way to productively move forward.”