Airplanes will still fly during the U.S. government shutdown, but safety oversight of air traffic controllers, the men and women responsible for ensuring that planes don’t crash into each other or anything else, is virtually non-existent until Republicans in Congress decide to support funding the government again.
The controllers will not even be subject to drug testing — or background checks.
Congressional Republicans want to prevent the Affordable Care Act, the new health care system popularly known as Obamacare, from taking effect as scheduled. A signature piece of legislation from President Barack Obama’s first term, the act was passed by both houses of Congress, ruled to be constitutional by the Supreme Court and was a key issue in the 2012 presidential election that Obama won by a significant margin.
But Republicans say that unless the plan is put on hold for at least one year, the government, including air traffic safety oversight, remains closed for business.
Some drugs, such as marijuana, remain in the body and can be detected by tests for up to a week, so any air traffic controllers who attempt to test the laxity in drug testing run the risk of being caught if the shutdown, now in its second day, ends quickly.
The Transportation Security Administration will not suffer a lack of staffing during the shutdown, however, so flyers can still expect all of the usual rituals such as removing belts and shoes, taking laptops out of bags, and being subjected to full body scans, even while the government lacks funding.
Amtrak will also run trains on schedule, a spokesperson said.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees air traffic control in the United States, has been forced to furlough — that is, temporarily lay off — 15,514 of its 46,070 workers. In addition to drug testing personnel, staff who check the backgrounds of air traffic controllers are also out of work during the shutdown.
Sources: PBS Newshour, NJ.com