It would be hard to write a blueprint for federal discretionary spending and not have it include a single worthy idea. 

Case in point: President Trump’s “skinny budget” includes a lot of penny-wise, pound-foolish budget-cutting ideas — and a smart expression of support for modernizing the nation’s outmoded system of air-traffic control.

Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) runs civilian air-traffic control in the United States, and, by all accounts, the system is safe. There has not been a single fatal accident involving a scheduled airline flight in the United States since 2009. It could be much better, however, and more efficient. The problem has been the FAA’s inability to push through a $35.8 billion program, NextGen, whose goal is to move the agency, belatedly, into the age of digital communications and GPS. The difficulties with NextGen, in turn, reflect the FAA’s reliance on multiple streams of funding, including not only dedicated user fees and taxes but also, in recent years, congressional appropriations. And an agency subject even partly to budgetary politics is an agency at risk of instability, up to and including government shutdowns.

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