Aviation Rulemaking:

Further Reform Is Needed to Address Long-standing Problems

GAO-01-821: Published: Jul 9, 2001. Publicly Released: Jul 12, 2001.

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issues regulations to strengthen aviation safety and security and to promote the efficient use of airspace. FAA's rulemaking is a complicated process intended to ensure that all aspects of any regulatory change are fully analyzed before any change goes into effect. During the last 40 years, many reports have documented problems in FAA's rulemaking efforts that have delayed the formulation and finalization of its rules. This report reviews FAA's rulemaking process. GAO reviewed 76 significant rules and found that FAA's rulemaking process varied widely. These rules constituted the majority of FAA's workload of significant rules from fiscal year 1995 through fiscal year 2000. GAO found that FAA had begun about 60 percent of the rulemaking projects by Congress and about a third of the rulemaking projects recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board within six months. For one-fourth of the mandates and one-third of the recommendations however, at least five years passed before FAA began the process. Once the rule was formally initiated, FAA took a median time of two and a half years to proceed from formal initiation of the rulemaking process through publication of the final rule. In 1998, FAA improved the rulemaking process and shortened the time frames for finalizing rules. These reforms included establishing a steering committee and a rulemaking management council to improve management involvement in setting priorities and resolving policy issues. GAO found that after the reforms were implemented, the median time for reviewing and finalizing a rule increased. This suggests that the productivity of FAA's rulemaking process for significant rules decreased after FAA's reforms.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to rulemaking officials, FAA used a prototype dedicated team for its "Subparts N&O" rulemaking project and plans to use a dedicated team for its "Mode S" rulemaking project. They said that FAA also tested the use of contractors to perform such tasks as developing economic analyses, disposing of public comments, and drafting regulatory language on rulemaking projects for Fractional Ownership, Aging Aircraft Wiring, RNAV Technology, and Repair Stations.

    Recommendation: To improve the efficiency of its rulemaking process and reap the maximum benefits from its rulemaking reform efforts, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to take steps to improve management involvement in the rulemaking process by providing resources sufficient for rulemaking teams to meet the agency's suggested time frames. One approach, suggested by the Office of Rulemaking, is to prototype the use of dedicated rulemaking teams by assigning staff for the duration of rulemaking projects. This approach would give the teams the ability to focus their efforts and manage projects to completion.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA now requires each significant rulemaking project record to be signed by the responsible associate administrator. Additionally, FAA's Chief Counsel has asked to review any rulemaking project record deemed costly or controversial. FAA also noted that senior executives receive bonuses tied to timely completion of important rules. In FY 2005, FAA adopted a requirement that any rule initiated in FY 2005 and beyond must be completed within 90 days of its originally scheduled date.

    Recommendation: To improve the efficiency of its rulemaking process and reap the maximum benefits from its rulemaking reform efforts, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to take steps to improve management involvement in the rulemaking process by holding managers at the director and associate administrator level accountable for making and supporting policy decisions as early as possible in the rulemaking process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA now includes performance measures for employees on the timeliness and quality of rulemaking in FAA's new performance management system. FAA has also improved its process for processing lower-priority rules to ensure completion within the 16-month congressional deadline.

    Recommendation: To improve the efficiency of its rulemaking process and reap the maximum benefits from its rulemaking reform efforts, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to take steps to improve management involvement in the rulemaking process by empowering team members by giving them the authority to coordinate with their associate administrators so that they can represent the associate administrator's policies, thus eliminating the need for the separate step of associate administrator's review and approval; empowering team members by permitting them to set their own schedules and deadlines; and holding staff and management accountable for ensuring that schedules are realistic.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA's revised Rulemaking Manual Appendix C entitled, "Critical Roles and Responsibilities in Rulemaking" delineates the critical responsibilities of FAA individuals, organizations and committees for the rulemaking process. FAA's new performance management system includes performance measures related to rulemaking timeliness and quality. Lastly, FAA is seeking International Organization for Standardization (ISO) registration for the rulemaking process, including a continuous improvement procedure.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to take steps to improve administration of the rulemaking process by clearly communicating the roles and responsibilities of program and support staff on rulemaking teams and holding team members and their managers accountable for limiting their reviews to established criteria.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA requires as a performance management standard for Office of Rulemaking staff a requirement for ensuring milestone information is accurate. FAA reviews project schedules weekly to ensure up to date information. FAA also tracks time for comments to travel back and forth to OST to better identify delays. Lastly, DOT had adopted a schedule tracking system to provide public information on DOT rule progress that it updates monthly.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to take steps to improve administration of the rulemaking process by ensuring that information systems used for rulemaking tracking and coordination contain current, complete, and accurate data on the status of all significant rulemaking projects, including the time elapsed between FAA's transmission of rules to Office of the Secretary of Transportation (OST) and the receipt of OST's comments or approval.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA's Office of Rulemaking expects to receive certification from International Organization for Standardization, which includes continuous improvement as an integral component. This includes quarterly management review meetings to address improvements suggested by management and key customers. FAA also requires documentation of these meetings and any changes resulting from these improvement discussions.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to take steps to improve administration of the rulemaking process by implementing elements of its proposed continuous improvement program and using the resulting information to identify problems in the process and potential solutions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to rulemaking officials, FAA provided training and support to all participants that promoted use of the agency's automated information system, and continues to provide training on an as-needed one-on-one basis targeted to individuals.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to take steps to improve human capital management of the rulemaking process by establishing a human capital management strategy for offices involved in rulemaking that includes providing training and support to all participants that promotes use of the agency's automated information system and collaborative, team-based decisionmaking skills, and assessing the skills of rulemaking staff and developing targeted training to better enable them to fulfill their rulemaking roles.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA now incorporates performance measures for employees based on the timeliness and quality of rulemaking in its performance management system. FAA adopted performance measures for rules and petitions for exemptions, and each employee is held responsible for the roles in its performance plan. FAA also noted that senior executives receive bonuses tied to timely completion of important rules.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to take steps to improve human capital management of the rulemaking process by establishing a human capital management strategy for offices involved in rulemaking that includes establishing and implementing performance measures based on expectations, evaluations, and incentives that promote timely, quality rules. One approach suggested by the Office of Rulemaking would be to include a goal for the agency's timely rulemaking in the short-term incentive plans for all senior managers involved in rulemaking.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  9. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: While FAA notes that it now maintains a manageable number of high-priority rules and has significantly reduced the number of lower-priority rulemaking projects ongoing at any time, FAA has not developed specific criteria for prioritizing its rulemaking efforts.

    Recommendation: To improve the efficiency of its rulemaking process and reap the maximum benefits from its rulemaking reform efforts, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to take steps to improve management involvement in the rulemaking process by reducing the number of top-priority projects to a manageable number over time by limiting the number of projects added until existing projects are completed and establishing criteria for ranking the highest priority rules so that the lowest ranked of these priority rules may be tabled if necessary to allow sufficient resources to be applied to emerging, higher-priority projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  10. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to FAA, on January 20, 2001, Mr. Andrew Card, the White House Chief of Staff, issued a memorandum instructing all agencies to first obtain departmental review and approval before issuing any significant rule.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should revise departmental policies to make them consistent with the provisions of the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century and reduce the number of FAA's significant rules subject to its review.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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