1 of 4 | Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg warns a potential government shutdown could impact air travel, as he testifies Wednesday before a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing on the Department of Transportation's policies and programs at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 20 (UPI) -- Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg faced sharp criticism over flight delays, train derailments and transportation funding at a hearing Wednesday, as he warned a potential government shutdown could affect air travel.
Republicans at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on Capitol Hill targeted Buttigieg with questions about a number of transportation issues, including a shortage of air traffic controllers and commercial airline pilots.
Buttigieg told lawmakers that the department has hired 1,500 air traffic controllers this year and is working to hire 2,600 more, as he argued a government shutdown in less than two weeks would interrupt their progress.
"A government shutdown would stop us in our tracks when it comes to hiring at exactly the wrong moment, while those who are qualified controllers in the tower would be permitted to continue working. It would stop training at just a moment when we're finally trending positive again, in terms of the number of people ready to take their seats," Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg agreed that despite a shortage, pilots should continue to retire at the age of 65, to which Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, replied: "How about having people in the highest office in our nation over 80?"
"I think there are a lot of folks here who could do a great job regardless of their age, but I wouldn't necessarily want them flying my airplane," Buttigieg retorted.
Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., questioned Buttigieg about the more than 500 train accidents since the Norfolk Southern Railway accident in Ohio seven months ago.
While Buttigieg acknowledged the Transportation Department has work to do, he warned again that a potential government shutdown would make things worse.
"We need to ensure our transportation safety work can continue by preventing a government shutdown," Buttigieg said, as he also faced criticism over his department's requests for additional funds.
"We continue to hear about the need for more money for infrastructure investment, but it seems you're not spending the money you have already. What's going on here?" Rep. Rick Crawford," R-Ark., asked.
"Nobody's sitting around and neither are the dollars, but the gap between the fiscal year in which it's authorized or appropriated, and the moment when that construction takes place, that's very real," Buttigieg replied.
Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas claimed that "despite never-before-seen levels of funds" going to the department, transportation "does not seem to be safer today."
"From what I can see your office is simply writing blank checks to fulfill Mr. Biden's climate initiatives," Babin argued, to which Buttigieg said "We're investing in roads and bridges and ports and airports and rail transit."
Buttigieg also faced questions about electric vehicles and how cold weather affects an EV's battery life, as he claimed the Biden administration is not forcing citizens to "purchase any technology."
The transportation secretary was also grilled about a plan to use the Atlantic City International Airport to house thousands of migrants.
"First of all, the Atlantic City Airport is an unacceptable place to house these people," Rep. Van Drew, R-N.J., said. "There are no services or infrastructure at the airport that could possible support this. Logistically, it is a poor concept. Further the Atlantic City airport is surrounded by facilities critical to national security."
Buttigieg replied that the issue is not under the Federal Aviation Administration's jurisdiction, as he urged lawmakers to partner with the department in two critical areas.
"One, ensuring our transportation safety work can continue by preventing a government shutdown; and two, delivering further improvements that are achievable only through new legislation."