Washington, D.C. – Today, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee adopted two amendments offered by Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-Westlake Village), which would help to prevent human trafficking and enforce veterans’ hiring preference at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The amendments were adopted as part of the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2997). At Congresswoman Brownley’s request, the bill also includes language to improve travel for veterans with disabilities.
“I am proud to lead the way on these amendments; whether it’s protecting veterans’ hiring preference or making air travel more accessible, we need to ensure that our laws protect the rights of veterans,” stated Brownley. “Additionally, we must do more to ensure that our railways, airways, and roadways are not conduits of human trafficking. I am pleased that the Committee has adopted these important provisions.”
Improving Travel for Disabled Veterans
As Ranking Member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, Brownley spearheaded efforts this year to include language in the FAA reauthorization bill that will improve travel for disabled veterans and other individuals with disabilities. In May, Brownley and 13 of her colleagues sent a letter to the Committee requesting three provisions be included in the bill. Chairman Shuster agreed to include all three provisions in H.R. 2997:
- Section 541 establishes a Select Subcommittee on air travel needs of passengers with disabilities;
- Section 542 requires the Comptroller General to study and report back to Congress on airport accessibility best practices for individuals with disabilities, as well as training policies related to properly assisting passengers with disabilities;
- Section 543 requires a study on cabin wheelchair restraint systems.
“I have met with many disabled veterans who have detailed the numerous problems that they have encountered using commercial air travel,” stated Brownley. “It is our responsibility to ensure that all people with disabilities are able to enjoy the benefits of air travel. I hope that these provisions will help to improve that experience and help to inform airport and airline policies in these areas.”
Protecting Veterans’ Hiring Preference
Last week, Congresswoman Brownley and Congressman Capuano introduced the Federal Aviation Administration Veterans’ Preference Protection Act (H.R. 3007), which would ensure that veterans’ hiring preference at the FAA is enforceable. Senators Hirono (D-HI), Moran (R-KS), Tester (D-MT), and Daines (R-MT) introduced identical legislation in the Senate (S. 1424). Today, Brownley offered this language as an amendment to H.R. 2997.
While the FAA is legally required to give veterans’ preference in hiring decisions, FAA employees don’t have legal protections to enforce those rights. The FAA is exempt from the vast majority of federal civil service personnel provisions included in Title 5 of the U.S. Code. As a result of this loophole, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit have concluded that although FAA employees enjoy veterans’ preference rights, FAA employees do not have access to any enforcement mechanisms. These mechanisms include jurisdictional appeals and remedial provisions, as well as hiring preferences for military spouses, spouses of disabled veterans, and survivors of veterans. The Federal Circuit Court considered this loophole to be a legislative oversight, but one that only Congress can remedy.
“We must do everything we can to ensure veterans are able to smoothly transition back to the civilian workforce, but veterans’ hiring preference is meaningless if it cannot actually be enforced,” stated Brownley. “My amendment closes this loophole, allows veterans to compete for vacancies, and gives preference to military and veterans’ spouses.”
Preventing Human Trafficking
An estimated 20.9 million people are victims of forced labor, or human trafficking, globally – including an estimated 1.5 million victims in North America, the European Union, and other developed economies combined. In 2016, the U.S. National Human Trafficking Resource Center reported over 7,500 domestic human trafficking cases – a 37% increase over the previous year. The Center also received more than 26,000 calls to their tip hotline in 2016 – a 22% increase from 2015. Sadly, over 2,300 of those cases involved children. Congresswoman Brownley’s amendment would require additional airline personnel be trained to identify possible victims of human trafficking and to ensure that they know how to properly report suspected trafficking to law enforcement.
“Air travel is unfortunately a major pathway for the illegal trafficking of children and other victims of forced labor. Flight attendants are not the only airline personnel who regularly interact with passengers. We need to ensure that airline workers, including gate agents and ticket counter agents, are also trained to be on the look-out for suspected human trafficking and know how to alert appropriate law enforcement authorities,” stated Brownley. “Alerting law enforcement in a timely manner could save the lives of victims, who may be too scared to speak up. The more people who are trained to look out for this insidious crime, the more victims we can protect.”