By: Sheryl Gay Stolberg
WASHINGTON — A senior Federal Aviation Administration official told subordinates there would be budget cuts that could lead to furloughs if Republicans held control of Congress, and federal investigators are determining whether the remarks constituted political pressure to vote for Democrats, a person with knowledge of the inquiry said on Saturday.
The comments were made in May by the agency’s No. 2 safety official, John Hickey, at a town hall-style meeting with F.A.A. employees in Seattle. Mr. Hickey, the deputy associate administrator for aviation safety, is an engineer and longtime civil servant, not a political appointee.
His comments are recounted in an e-mail exchange obtained by a government watchdog group. They have prompted an inquiry by the federal Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency that monitors violations of the Hatch Act, which bars civil servants in the executive branch from engaging in partisan activity.
The inquiry was first reported by Fox News. In a statement on Saturday, an F.A.A. spokeswoman said the agency “takes Hatch Act violation allegations very seriously and will cooperate fully with any review of the allegations.”
In the e-mails, obtained by the watchdog group Cause of Action, an F.A.A. employee in Seattle gives an account of Mr. Hickey’s remarks at the May 23 session. (The names on the e-mails are blacked out; the contents are reprinted here with typographical errors intact.) Cause of Action has asked for the F.A.A.’s inspector general to investigate.
“I would not be able to quote Mr. Hickey exact words, but what I took out of it was, if the conservative republication gain control of congress then the FAA could be looking at as much as a 15% cut in budget and we may be looking at furloughs,” one e-mail said. “If the liberal Democrats take control of congress then we would be looking at a flat budget. In short if the Republicans win office our jobs may be effected (furloughs) if the Democrats win office then our jobs would not be effected.”
The recipient replied: “Although I did not take offense, I agree Mr. Hickey probably shouldn’t have mentioned politics and how the FAA budget and/or employee pay could be effected as a result of the upcoming election.” The reply went on, “So was Mr. Hickey acting or being partisan? I don’t think so, but politics is always hot button especially during an election year!”