In May, REASON reported on the contracting of air traffic control to private enterprise at several airports around the country ("Towering Entrepreneurs"). Since then, according to author John Doherty, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said that three more "contract towers" will be announced on August 1. (At this writing, four airports are reportedly in the running—Enid, Oklahoma; Salina, Kansas; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; and Akron, Ohio.) The agency is also planning to establish a joint industry-government task force to formalize its contract tower program.
Doherty attended the convention of the American Association of Airport Executives in Orlando on June 8 and found that the REASON article was quite the topic of discussion. He reports that he "received a number of positive comments on the article." Duard Spleth, manager of the Enid, Oklahoma, airport, made a strong statement supporting contract towers that included several quotes from "Towering Entrepreneurs," and was warmly received by attendees, according to Doherty.
The FAA may be approving three more contract towers, but, as might be expected, the government attitude toward contracting out remains ambivalent. For example, the Labor Department has created a possible obstacle to private air traffic control by claiming that the 1965 Contract Services Act requires that "prevailing wages" be paid on federal contracts.
But what is the prevailing wage here—federal controllers' salaries or private-sector controllers' salaries? If it's the latter, as the FAA says, this will create only a minor nuisance for the new industry. If it's the former, as the Labor Department says, it spells catastrophe for private air traffic control. At this writing, there's a standoff between the two bureaucracies.
But, if the trend towards private air traffic control can steer clear of the shoals of government bureaucracy, such as the Labor Department fracas, it's clearly on its way.
NO CURE YET FOR MEDICAL MONOPOLY
In June, REASON reported on a campaign to liberalize California's Medical Practices Act, which, like similar medical-licensing laws in other states, confers a near-monopoly on medical practice to doctors using conventional healing techniques ("Healthy Symptoms," Trends). A Berkeley group called the Coalition for Health Democracy was spearheading an effort to permit a freer market in medical care, and the staff of the state's Board of Medical Quality Assurance prepared a proposal for reform of the Medical Practices Act that would permit alternative health practitioners to practice, on a limited basis, without state harassment.
Unfortunately, the California Medical Society—the medical establishment's trade association—mobilized its considerable political clout against the reform proposal. On May 20, the state board formally received the staff report but voted to take no action. Thus, the monopoly remains intact. A Medical Quality Assurance Board spokesman told REASON that there is virtually no chance of any liberalization of the restriction on alternative health practitioners "in the foreseeable future."
MORE BAD MARKS FOR WEAPONS TESTING
In our April 1982 issue, military analyst Dina Rasor detailed how the Pentagon rigs test procedures and results to assure favorable outcomes in testing new weapons ("Fighting with Failures"). A recent GAO study concurs with REASON's investigations: the General Accounting Office found that $33 billion worth of new weapons the Pentagon already has in production are insufficiently tested. The GAO auditors uncovered serious testing inadequacies in 10 major weapons, including new systems for the B-52 bomber and the Phoenix and Patriot missiles. The GAO report indicted the Defense Department's weapons-development system, which places both development and testing under the purview of the same office.
So evident is this built-in conflict of interest that Sen. David Pryor (D–Ark.)—who first became aware of the issue through Rasor's exposé in REASON—and 16 other senators have introduced a bill to establish a testing and review office in the Pentagon, independent of its development and buying offices. A small test-review office now exists in the Defense bureaucracy, but it is a token entity with no authority. Endorsing the proposed separate testing and review office, the editors of the New York Times wrote in a July editorial that the Pentagon needs "an independent judge to compel rejection of armor-plated turkeys."