A Federal Page story yesterday should have said the breakdowns on the number of Federal Aviation Administration retirees were official FAA figures. (Published 9/7/90)
The Air Transport Association, which represents major airlines, said yesterday the Federal Aviation Administration lost more than just senior headquarters managers when retirement-rule jitters hit the agency last month. A lot of senior air traffic controllers left too.
According to ATA figures, 341 FAA personnel retired in August, 117 of them air traffic controllers and 84 of them electronics technicians. An FAA spokesman said the figures "sound right."
The exodus from the FAA, which has about 50,000 employees, was sparked by reports Congress might agree with President Bush and do away with the right of government employees to take part of their retirement pay in one lump sum.
Among those rushing for the door began were three top officials -- Wayne J. Barlow, executive director for regulatory standards and compliance; Robert E. Whittington, executive director for administration and resource management and Edwin F. Harris Jr., executive director for system operations. Three regional directors also left -- Paul Bohr of the Central Region, Gerald Chavkin of the Western/Pacific Region and Don P. Watson of the Southwest Division.
"You're talking about over 100 years of total FAA experience," said an FAA spokesman.
Besides the controllers and technicians, the ATA counted 17 engineers, 11 safety inspectors, two pilots and 110 employees in "other categories" as retiring.
The airlines, already upset by constraints from the air traffic control system, are distressed by the large number of retiring controllers, presumably among the most experienced. The exodus was first reported last week by the newsletter Aviation Daily.
"The FAA is trying to modernize an overburdened air traffic control system," said ATA President Robert J. Aaronson. "The agency must be freed from the constraints of the federal civil service system if we are ever to solve today's problems and build for tomorrow."
Under a 1986 law, federal retirees may take half the money they paid into the system immediately, and the other half a year later. They still receive an annuity from the government, but one 8 to 12 percent less than they would have received. This has become an increasingly popular option, with perhaps 75 percent of retirees choosing the immediate gratification.
President Bush proposed in his fiscal 1991 budget doing away with the lump-sum option, and the question is involved in the budget talks between the White House and Congress that resume Friday.
For the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, federal employees were forced to act by Aug. 31 or gamble that Congress will hold out against the president. Under the technicalities of federal retirement systems, employees had to be off the payroll by the end of August to be considered September retirees and therefore certain of the lump-sum option no matter what happens Oct. 1.
Presumably persons are retiring for similar reasons in parts of the government, but the FAA has received attention its personnel situation already is strained by a growing airspace crunch.
A staff member of the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee said he does not know the overall impact on the government, although the subcommittee received numerous calls asking about the provision in August.
In a prepared statement FAA Administrator James B. Busey said, "I view this as a time of opportunity for the FAA. I'm going to take my time to explore all possible solutions."