U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow urged immediate passage of the 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which would fund government operations through September.
Congressional negotiators unveiled the bipartisan $1.1 trillion spending bill January 13.
Dow notes the bill includes several provisions that will help facilitate greater travel to and within the United States—and, critically, evidences a commitment by both major parties to avoid another government shutdown and the resulting economic damage.
"Leaders in the two chambers have come a long way since the fiscal travails we saw in the fall," said Dow. "The shutdown was a tragedy for communities and small businesses, and this spending measure is the opposite—it keeps the business of government open, and also contains common-sense provisions that will help the travel industry continue to create jobs and add value to the U.S. economy."
U.S. Travel said the omnibus spending bill would help facilitate greater international travel to the U.S. with provisions that include:
- Providing resources for an additional 2,000 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers;
- Directing CBP to develop goals and metrics for clearing international passengers through U.S. Customs in a timelier manner; and
- Instructing the U.S. State Department to develop a pilot project to demonstrate the use of secure videoconferencing technology to conduct visa interviews, which would enable U.S. consular officials to efficiently expand its visa services in geographically large countries such as Brazil.
In addition to facilitating increased travel to the U.S., the omnibus bill takes steps toward building an efficient and seamless U.S. transportation system, the association said, including:
- Providing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with sufficient flexibility to avoid air traffic controller furloughs and the closure of contract towers, without raiding airport grants;
- Funding airport infrastructure grants at the authorized levels ($3.35 billion);
- Continuing to fund the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants program that finances vital transportation infrastructure projects around the country ($600 million);
- Avoiding further cuts to the FAA's Next Generation (NextGen) Air Traffic Control System program;
- Funding the federal Highway program at the authorized levels; and
- Funding state and local transit grants at the authorized levels.
The bill also supports continuation and expansion of the Transportation Security Administration's PreCheck program that provides expedited aviation security screening for preapproved, low-risk travelers.
Combined, these measures will boost America's travel economy, which already adds more than $2.0 trillion annually to U.S. GDP, accounts for one out of every eight U.S. jobs and creates an annual trade surplus of more than $45 billion, U.S. Travel said.
When international travelers visit the U.S., their spending here constitutes an export and makes a positive contribution to America's balance of trade. Travel is America's No. 1 services export, the association said.