Air Traffic Control:

Immature Software Acquisition Processes Increase FAA System Acquisition Risks

AIMD-97-47: Published: Mar 21, 1997. Publicly Released: Mar 21, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) air traffic control (ATC) modernization software acquisition efforts, focusing on the: (1) maturity of FAA's ATC modernization software acquisition processes; and (2) steps/actions FAA has underway or planned to improve these processes, including any obstacles that may impede FAA's progress.

GAO noted that: (1) because of the number and severity of FAA ATC modernization software acquisition process weaknesses, FAA did not fully satisfy any of the seven key process areas (KPA) necessary to achieve the "repeatable" level of process maturity; (2) as a result, its processes for acquiring software, the most costly and complex component of ATC systems, are ad hoc, sometimes chaotic, and not repeatable across projects; (3) in addition, serious process weaknesses prevented FAA from satisfying the one KPA specified under the Software Engineering Institute's "defined" maturity level; (4) while FAA showed process strengths, primarily in the solicitation and evaluation KPAs, GAO found extensive weaknesses in these and the remaining six KPAs; (5) some of these weaknesses were systemic, recurring in each of the KPAs; (6) for example, no software project teams measured or reported to management on the status of activities performed, and management never verified that critical activities were being done; (7) these types of problems are some of the reasons for FAA's frequent failures to deliver promised ATC system capabilities on time and within budget; (8) FAA has stated its commitment to increasing ATC modernization process maturity; (9) however, despite 4 years of activity in this area, FAA lacks an effective management approach for improving software acquisition processes; (10) currently, the Software Engineering Process Group (SEPG) is responsible for process improvement, but the SEPG has neither organizational nor budgetary authority over the product teams that acquire software, and, therefore, cannot effectively implement or enforce process change; (11) instead, it can only recommend and encourage change; (12) additionally, FAA does not have an effective plan to correctly target and prioritize improvements and measure improvement progress; (13) in the absence of this plan, it has initiated a "hodge podge" of software acquisition improvement efforts without any analytical justification; and (14) as a result, FAA's process improvement activities have yet to produce more repeatable, better defined, more disciplined software acquisition processes.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since fiscal year 1998, FAA has funded its software acquisition improvement effort with both individual project funds and CIO funding. The CIO has reduced its share of improvement funding in each of those years, due in part, to individual projects' funding increases for acquisition process improvements. FAA's CIO Office believes that adequate resources have been allocated to ensure sufficient software acquisition efforts are implemented.

    Recommendation: To improve FAA's software acquisition capability for its ATC modernization and thereby take the first step in institutionalizing mature acquisition processes, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to allocate adequate resources to ensure that these improvement efforts are implemented and enforced.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA has a comprehensive plan for ATC modernization software acquisition process improvement based on a FAA-developed capability maturity model that specifies measurable goals and timeframes for 11 ATC modernization projects, prioritizes initiatives, estimates resource requirements, and assigns roles and responsibilities.

    Recommendation: To improve FAA's software acquisition capability for its ATC modernization and thereby take the first step in institutionalizing mature acquisition processes, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to require the CIO to develop and implement a comprehensive plan for ATC modernization software acquisition process improvement that is based on the software capability evaluation results contained in this report and specifies measurable goals and time frames, prioritizes initiatives, estimates resource requirements, and assigns roles and responsibilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA issued an order providing the CIO the authority for software acquisition process improvement.

    Recommendation: To improve FAA's software acquisition capability for its ATC modernization and thereby take the first step in institutionalizing mature acquisition processes, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to provide FAA's CIO the authority needed to implement and enforce ATC modernization software acquisition process improvement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA recently hired a CIO who reports directly to the Administrator. FAA's new CIO has taken responsibility for the agency's software acquisition process improvement program.

    Recommendation: To improve FAA's software acquisition capability for its ATC modernization and thereby take the first step in institutionalizing mature acquisition processes, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to assign responsibility for software acquisition process improvement to FAA's Chief Information Officer (CIO).

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA partially concurred with this recommendation. FAA program offices continue to make improvements in their acquisition processes. Thirteen FAA directorates have committed to achieving level 2 capabilities for a portion of their systems. Also, several program offices have undergone Integrated Maturity Capability Model audits to certify their level of acquisition capability. However, FAA does not require all systems to achieve level 2 capability, and an FAA software process improvement official stated that the agency would not require all of its systems to achieve level 2 capabilities.

    Recommendation: To improve FAA's software acquisition capability for its ATC modernization and thereby take the first step in institutionalizing mature acquisition processes, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to require that, before being approved, every ATC modernization acquisition project have software acquisition processes that satisfy at least Software Acquisition Capability Maturity Model level 2 requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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