Meehan Right to Stop Wasteful Mideast Preclearance Facility

Stephen DeMaura

1/22/2014 12:01:00 AM - Stephen DeMaura

In the wake of Congress’ least productive year in recent history, the American people are growing increasingly frustrated with their government institutions and are looking for Congress to come together and pass consensus-based legislation. There are a number of pressing issues facing Congress, many of which will require enormous amounts of political capital to break Washington’s old-aged tradition of gridlock. Fortunately, there are also a slew of less polarizing issues that could potentially offer opportunities for bipartisan leadership and produce results which benefit the American people.

One such example is bi-partisan legislation introduced toward the tail end of last year by Representatives Patrick Meehan (R-PA) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) that would address the United States’ decision to send valuable resources half way across the world to the United Arab Emirates. In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agreed to staff a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) preclearance facility in the Abu Dhabi airport. DHS touted their decision as one that would help speed entry into the United States.

But make no mistake; this particular preclearance facility will do little to expedite American citizens entering the United States, as only 573 passengers per day travel from Abu Dhabi to the United States. This decision is ever more curious when one considers that the federal government is doing this despite the fact that no United States airlines serve the Abu Dhabi airport. This means that foreign airlines, like Abu Dhabi backed airline Etihad Airways, can utilize the preclearance facility to attract new customers by offering it as a hub for easier access to the United States. In fact, Etihad Airways has already started marketing its flights from Abu Dhabi to the United States in their collateral. This should be great cause for concern as the United States is effectively paying for a foreign country’s government backed airline to enjoy a competitive advantage over U.S. carriers.

Given the circumstances, this spending is nothing short of egregious. The U.S. economy is $17 trillion dollars in debt, and yet the federal government is sending hard-earned taxpayer money to help a foreign airline when there is much they could be doing to shore up operations in America and ease the entry process here on the mainland. All too often are there long lines at our airports in the United States. It really makes one wonder why the government is spending money on an airport in Abu Dhabi, rather than focusing their resources on better serving our own airports.

This is especially important since the American commercial aviation industry is vital to our economy. It supports ten million jobs and over a trillion dollars of economic activity. Many American companies and their employees would be negatively impacted by this preclearance facility, which is why this issue has attracted a strong, but diverse coalition of members lobbying against it. The issue has made for strange bedfellows with groups like the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Democrats and Republicans, uniting against this proposed preclearance facility. Yet, it seems as if DHS is willfully ignoring calls from Members of Congress, aviation workers and American employers to stop the government involvement in the preclearance facility.

It is important that Congress pass Congressmen DeFazio and Meehan’s legislation, so that we can send a strong message to government bureaucrats in the Department of Homeland Security. Our tax dollars must not be used to strengthen America’s competitors in the airline industry, particularly when the carrier in question Etihad Airways already receives millions in assistance from the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

It would almost seem our own government using our own money is hell bent on killing our own jobs by expending resources on a foreign preclearance facility not used by domestic carriers, while also providing the foreign airline benefitting from it favorable loan guarantees and terms that our own companies cannot receive.

The lunacy must stop and Congress must move on common sense legislation such as that proposed by Congressmen Meehan and DeFazio which establishes guidelines for the establishment of preclearance facilities, while also prohibiting such a facility in the Abu Dhabi airport.