Air Traffic Controllers Furloughed, Obamacare Workers Still on the Job

April 25, 2013

During Wednesday’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on the implementation of Obamacare, a troubling fact came to light – as the Obama administration is furloughing FAA workers including air traffic controllers, workers responsible for the implementation of Obamacare are not facing the same time away from their work. Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) questioned Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) Director Gary Cohen about the effects of the sequester on the implementation of the president’s health care law. Cohen responded that CMS was simply under a “hiring freeze.” However, despite the claim that CMS isn’t hiring, a simple online search reveals that the agency opened up hiring for a new health insurance specialist just this week. As the agency responsible for implementation of Obamacare, Harper questioned why CCIIO is not facing any furloughs while the Federal Aviation Administration, which is responsible for flight safety and the safety of millions of passengers daily, is facing furloughs resulting in delays of up to three hours for travelers. A transcript of their exchange is below.

Harper: “Now I’d like to talk for a minute about the sequester impact if we could. You know we’ve had this administration cancel White House tours, but yet have concerts that cost over $400,000 of taxpayer money, we’ve had an Easter egg roll, we’re gonna have, I guess, another Congressional White House Christmas Ball. All these things are done. TSA talking about long waits at the airport, even though they ordered $50,000,000 worth of new uniforms before sequester kicked in, so I think the public realizes the political gamesmanship that is taking place in this, so I want to know what you’ve done as far as the sequester, how that’s impacted you, and if there’s anything there that we should expect as far as furloughs or impact on patient care.”

Cohen: “Within CMS, we have been working very hard to avoid the necessity for furloughs. We are under a hiring freeze, so I can’t hire. I can’t replace people who leave, which is a serious issue for me in terms of trying to run a program. If people move onto other jobs, I can’t hire to replace them. And, there have been, you know we’ve applied the sequester according to the advice we’ve been given across-the-board as we’re required to do.”

Harper: “I’m almost out of time. Are you telling me then that this administration is furloughing air traffic controllers – vital to public safety in this country – but yet you’re not furloughing anybody in your agency?”

Cohen: “Well in effect we are because we can’t, we can’t replace people who leave.”

Harper: “But that’s not the same. We’re talking about at least a 15 percent furlough of current air traffic controllers resulting in delays and perhaps safety concerns, but yet, this has been a selected political item by the administration.”

CMS STILL HIRING: Notably, despite Cohen’s proclamations that CMS is in the midst of a hiring freeze, the agency is currently soliciting applications for three job openings, one of which opened just this week on April 22, 2013, a Health Insurance Specialist making an annual salary between $89,033 - $115,742. The agency is seeking to fill the position by May 3, 2013.

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