US government transport and aviation officials have begun the new year under uncertainty as funding for federal agencies remains stalled in Congress, which began a new session last week.

Lawmakers were unable to pass 2003 budgets for nearly every federal department before adjourning late last year. Instead, Congress approved "continuing resolutions" that temporarily fund agencies at the level of the previous fiscal year, which ended on 30 September 2002.

The situation has left the US Department of Transportation (DoT), Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) with uncertain funding levels, which officials say compromises their ability to pursue new initiatives. The TSA, in particular, faces a challenging year ahead as it battles to implement a series of security measures in response to the 2001 terrorist attacks.

US assistant secretary of transportation for aviation and international affairs Read Van de Water has admitted that the DoT's travel budget is "desperate", forcing the cancellation of several international trips - most prominently a meeting in Vietnam to discuss a possible USA/Vietnam bilateral air agreement. She adds that the trip has been tentatively rescheduled for the spring and says: "We hope funds will be available."

But that is not a sure thing, as Congress has the ability to pass continuing resolutions for as long as it deems necessary. Congress-ional appropriators are attempting to thrash out differences in various spending proposals, but DoT officials fear it could be weeks or possibly months before a 2003 budget is cleared.

Source: Flight International