EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The Federal Aviation Administration will not reorganize the William J. Hughes Technical Center into three separate groups, which critics warned could compromise its research independence and threaten jobs.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, said Wednesday that Congress had rejected the FAA reorganization request by not putting it into the omnibus legislation to keep the government funded that went to Congress earlier in the day.
“The FAA didn’t technically withdraw it,” Van Drew said. “It would have had to go through my committee, where it was not supported. It was also not supported in the Appropriations Committee. It didn’t get any support whatsoever. It was not like a simple up-or-down vote.”
The FAA had submitted a reprogramming request last year to split the center’s 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.
That would have moved major parts of the FAA out of South Jersey and would have given the Washington bureaucracy control over the FAA, costing hundreds of local jobs, according to Van Drew.
Van Drew and U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Robert Menendez said last year that such a move would fracture the center’s ability to function, and began a campaign to stop it.
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Van Drew called stopping the reorganization a huge win for South Jersey, and said moving forward he will focus on improving infrastructure at Atlantic City International Airport and on legislation to improve FAA policies and expand the Technical Center’s role in emerging technologies.
“The National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) is very pleased to see that the reorganization plans for the Hughes Technical Center are shelved,” said union Executive Director Steve Lenkart, in an email response to questions Wednesday.
“The workers at the Hughes Center perform critical research and technical development services for the country and the aerospace industry. In order to maintain American aerospace dominance and keep the sky over the country safe, the work at the Hughes Center must continue,” Lenkart said.
He said the NFFE looks forward to working with the FAA in the future, “and we are extremely grateful to U.S. Representative Jeff Van Drew for his exceptional leadership in Congress fighting for the Hughes Center and the critical mission of the facility and the FAA.”
In a letter to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, who has announced his resignation effective March 31, the senators said they were concerned the changes “may jeopardize the integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness of the nation’s premier aviation research facility.”
“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. They could also 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 said.
Van Drew began what he called a “full court press” to stop the reorganization, writing letters and holding meetings with Dickson and others.
In an October letter, Van Drew asked Dickson to withdraw the FAA’s reprogramming request for the tech center.
“The most alarming element of the proposal is the apparent intention to eventually privatize the research, development, testing and evaluation capabilities of the FAA,” Van Drew wrote.
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While Dickson did not withdraw the request, he stopped pushing for it, Van Drew said.
“The work performed by union members at the WJHTC is inherently governmental and too important to outsource,” representatives of several unions wrote in an October letter to Dickson. “In their work to preserve the safety of the flying public, our federal government researchers are accountable to the traveling public and taxpayers, not profiting business leaders or their shareholders.”
The National Federation of Federal Employees, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and the American Federation of Government Employees represent more than 500 employees at the tech center.
The FAA calls the tech center its premier laboratory and facility for the research, development, testing and evaluation of cutting-edge aviation technology.
It is home to the FAA’s NextGen air traffic control modernization program, the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Advanced Air Mobility programs, and more.
The tech center and its tenants — including Atlantic City International and the National Aerospace Research & 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 in 2021.
They also are responsible for 5,240 jobs, according to an economic impact analysis released in October.
REPORTER: Michelle Brunetti Post
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