Federal Aviation Administration's Host Computer:

More Realistic Performance Tests Needed Before Production Begins

IMTEC-85-10: Published: Jun 6, 1985. Publicly Released: Jun 6, 1985.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Host Computer Program, which is intended to support the nation's air traffic control, to determine whether the two vendors' proposed systems would provide adequate information on which to base a production decision.

GAO found that: (1) FAA performance testing was not in accordance with established guidelines and did not provide convincing evidence that either vendor's proposed system could meet operationally realistic work loads; (2) proceeding to production without sufficient information could require additional time and money to provide a system that performs as required; (3) FAA did not adequately document its planning and monitoring actions during design competition or adequately monitor performance testing; and (4) the air traffic control software enhancements intended to improve air safety and efficiency were not ready when the design competition phase testing took place.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Transportation (DOT) proceeded to award the host contract following a DOT-sponsored study, which concluded that costs for conducting GAO recommended testing would not be cost-effective. Potential benefits used in justifying the current agency schedule will be analyzed in a follow-on assignment. GAO will follow-up on testing issues as the host system is implemented.

    Matter: If the Secretary of Transportation decides to proceed without realistic performance testing and without adequate explanation of the urgency of proceeding, Congress may wish to consider directing the Secretary to defer the contract award.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOT proceeded to award the host contract following a DOT-sponsored study, which concluded that costs for conducting GAO recommended testing would not be cost-effective. Potential benefits used in justifying the current agency schedule will be analyzed in a follow-on assignment. GAO will follow-up on testing issues as the host system is implemented.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the FAA operational requirements for the host computers are met, the Secretary of Transportation should consider the merits of deferring the production and vendor selection decisions for the host computers, extending the design competition phase, and performing more realistic performance tests on both vendor systems. The Secretary should also consider: (1) the uncertainties associated with the proposed host computers' ability to support operationally realistic work loads; (2) the questionable precision and reliability of the FAA computer model to project near-term air traffic delays caused by current computer capacity shortages; and (3) the apparent lack of significant near-term air traffic delays associated with FAA current computers. If the Secretary decides to proceed with these recommendations without realistic testing, notwithstanding the above-mentioned uncertainties, the Secretary should, in advance of proceeding, provide the appropriate congressional committees with the Department's views and the support views, particularly on the performance uncertainties.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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