Improved Condition Assessment Methods Could Better Inform Maintenance Decisions and Capital- Planning Efforts
GAO-13-757: Published: Sep 10, 2013. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2013.
What GAO Found
According to data provided by FAA and the General Services Administration (GSA), federally maintained facilities FAA occupies are generally in fair to good condition. FAA assesses the condition of staffed facilities in several ways, including direct inspections. However, the condition of approximately 75 percent of Air Traffic Organization's (ATO) terminal facilities is based on estimates derived from the approximately 25 percent of facilities that have been inspected over the last 6 years. Our analysis of FAA's statistical model for estimating the condition of uninspected terminal facilities found it to be imprecise; it uses one variable--age of the facility--to estimate the facility's condition. Adding other variables that are correlated with condition, such as facility replacement value and use, could potentially improve the estimate's accuracy. In addition, facility condition data in FAA's Real Estate Management System (REMS)--FAA's database for tracking its inventory of real property assets, including the size, replacement value, and condition of each asset--are not derived from sound data collection practices and did not match facility condition data from ATO or other FAA organizational components responsible for maintaining these facilities. Inaccuracies in REMS data undermine its usefulness as a management tool.
FAA has mechanisms to identify and mitigate safety deficiencies at FAA facilities. For example, FAA annually conducts a safety and health inspection, as required by regulation, at each of its staffed facilities under its Environmental and Occupational Safety and Health program. Identified deficiencies are tracked to ensure they are mitigated. FAA also established safety committees to maintain an open channel of communication between employees and managers concerning safety matters in the workplace. FAA employees may also report any hazards they identify to FAA managers at their facility or, as applicable, to their union representative or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
FAA has taken actions to strengthen its capital planning process to help ensure its facilities are in good condition. In 2012, FAA created a Facilities Group Manager position within ATO to coordinate management of all its operations facilities, both staffed and unstaffed. ATO's Facilities Group Manager is taking steps to develop a standard prioritization process focusing on safety, mission critical needs, and environmental requirements to modernize and sustain existing equipment, facilities, and services; this approach is to be used to develop FAA's future budget requests. FAA is developing a 10-year "Get Well" plan that, among other things, is to establish an approach to reduce the maintenance backlog for existing facilities. This plan, along with a facilities consolidation report the agency is developing in response to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, should help provide justification and cost projections for maintaining facilities in good condition.
Why GAO DId This Study
Of the approximately 1,230 facilities that FAA staff occupy, FAA is responsible for maintaining over 40 percent of them--spending over $1 billion since 2008; most of the remaining facilities are leased and maintained by the lessors. Yet, according to FAA officials, air traffic control facilities--the bulk of FAA-maintained facilities--have a current maintenance backlog of about $259 million. Deferring maintenance on facilities could compromise safe airspace operations.
The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 mandated that GAO study the condition of FAA-staffed facilities. This report addresses, among other things, (1) the condition of FAA-staffed facilities and the reliability of assessment methods; (2) the extent to which FAA has responded to identified safety deficiencies; and (3) the extent to which FAA's actions to ensure that its facilities are in good condition follow leading practices. GAO analyzed data and documents from FAA, the Department of Labor, and GSA, and interviewed agency officials and others, including union representatives.
What GAO Recommends
To ensure more accurate and reliable data to help decision making on its facilities' conditions, GAO is recommending that FAA (1) improve the precision of the methods used to estimate the conditions of uninspected terminal facilities and (2) implement a plan to improve REMS, consistent with sound data collection practices. DOT provided technical comments, which we incorporated as appropriate.
Recommendations for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: In 2013, GAO reported that data provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the General Services Administration indicated that federally maintained facilities FAA occupies were generally in fair to good condition. The condition of approximately 75 percent of Air Traffic Organization's (ATO)--an FAA component--terminal facilities was based on estimates derived from the approximately 25 percent of facilities that had been inspected over the previous 6 years. Specifically, ATO used a statistical method to estimate the condition of 75 percent of its terminal facilities. However, this method had limitations that produced estimates with substantial error and uncertainty. ATO had actual inspection data for 25 percent of all terminal facilities and used that data to estimate the condition of the remaining facilities that had not been inspected. ATO's consulting firm annually used a statistical model based on data obtained from the inspected facilities to estimate the condition of facilities that had not been inspected. In particular, the model used facility age to estimate the Facility Condition Index (FCI) and deferred maintenance of each facility not inspected. GAO's analysis showed that although FCI and deferred maintenance were correlated with age, the strength of the relationship was not strong enough to produce highly precise estimates of FCI and deferred maintenance for facilities that were not inspected. As a result, the true condition of the uninspected facilities was less precisely known. Moreover, GAO's analysis indicated that increasing the number of variables in the method for estimating FCI and deferred maintenance could potentially improve the FCI's accuracy, because the method would include other factors that are correlated with condition, such as facility size, use, and replacement value. In addition, assessing and reporting the prediction error associated with any statistical estimate, regardless of the estimation method used, is useful in quantifying the degree to which the estimate varies from actual conditions. Therefore, GAO recommended that FAA (1) improve the precision of the estimation methods used by ATO to determine conditions of terminal facilities that have not been inspected and (2) assess and report the error associated with estimates of the terminal facilities' condition and deferred maintenance. In 2016, GAO confirmed that FAA improved the precision of the estimation methods that ATO uses. Specifically, FAA had ATO's consulting firm analyze the estimation methods for determining the condition of its facilities. The contractor reviewed several estimation models and predictor variables and concluded that adding the facility's size and air traffic facility activity level to the facility's age variable would result in a more accurate estimate of a facility's condition; furthermore, the additional variables lowered the prediction error associated with the condition and deferred maintenance of those facilities that were not inspected. FAA adopted this statistical model that included these other variables and applied it in its 2015 and 2016 annual assessment of its facilities. Our analysis confirmed that the revised model reduced the former model's prediction error by a considerable amount and helps FAA predict more accurately the condition of its facilities. With more accurate and reliable facility condition data, FAA is in a better position to effectively plan and make budget requests for its facilities.
Recommendation: To ensure that FAA has accurate and reliable information on the condition of its facilities and allow for more informed decision making on their maintenance and repairs and associated capital-planning efforts, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator to improve the precision of the estimation methods used by ATO to determine conditions at terminal facilities that have not been inspected and assess and report the error associated with estimates of the terminal facilities' condition and deferred maintenance.
Agency Affected: Department of Transportation
Comments: When we confirm what actions FAA has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Recommendation: To ensure that FAA has accurate and reliable information on the condition of its facilities and allow for more informed decision making on their maintenance and repairs and associated capital-planning efforts, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to develop and implement a plan to comprehensively assess and improve REMS, consistent with sound data collection practices, to ensure that the data are sufficiently complete, accurate, and synchronized with other real property data maintained by FAA organizational components.
Agency Affected: Department of Transportation