FAA Staffing:

Improvements Needed in Estimating Air Traffic Controller Requirements

RCED-88-106: Published: Jun 21, 1988. Publicly Released: Jul 6, 1988.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) standards for estimating its air traffic controller staffing requirements, focusing on: (1) whether the standards reasonably projected staffing requirements; (2) how FAA used the standards; and (3) how FAA can improve the standards and their use.

GAO found that FAA understated its staffing requirements, since: (1) its controller staffing standards did not adequately reflect work-load complexity, peak traffic conditions, actual operating conditions at terminals and centers, attrition, and training needs; and (2) it used orders rather than computer models to determine its other personnel needs. GAO also found that: (1) Congress offset the possible impact of underestimated staffing needs by authorizing more staffing than FAA requested; (2) FAA adopted the current standards in 1981, but has not yet officially published or effectively communicated them to regional and facility managers; (3) FAA regional and facility managers used their own unvalidated processes and formulas for estimating staffing needs and did not use the current standards as management tools or for productivity measures; and (4) FAA has not revalidated or updated the current standards and has not established a process for doing so.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: With the passage of 6 years since this report was written, the FAA work environment to which it applied has undergone some major changes. GAO's recommendation calls for having the 1980 order on staffing standards reflect the standards and processes actually used by FAA when the GAO report was written in 1988. However, these standards and processes have changed dramatically since 1988 and are impacted by NPR's initiatives. For example, pipeline needs are not factored into the estimate. Furthermore, FAA is now performing a comprehensive review of the standards and processes for all its major workforces. Subsequent recommendations and their incorporation into FAA orders are expected by the agency in the next year as a consequence of this review. This has made GAO's recommendation no longer applicable to the current situation. Instead the results of this high level FAA review of staffing standards will present important new policy options to be seriously considered.

    Recommendation: To improve the process it uses to determine air traffic controller staffing requirements, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to update the 1980 order on air traffic staffing standards to reflect the standards and process actually used by FAA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: It is now a mandatory checklist item in the National Evaluation Process.

    Recommendation: To improve the process it uses to determine air traffic controller staffing requirements, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to establish a formal feedback process for communicating with facility managers to ensure adequate consideration of staff needs for each facility.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: It is now a mandatory checklist item in the National Evaluation Process.

    Recommendation: To improve the process it uses to determine air traffic controller staffing requirements, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to establish and use a formal validation process to ensure that the standards are accurate and current.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Since this report was written 6 years ago the operating environment for overhead staffing requirements in the air traffic controller workforce has been significantly modified. The National Performance Review initiative has led to downsizing of FAA's overhead personnel. FAA has targeted non-safety staff and supervisory staff (about 26,000 positions nationwide) for reduction. Where feasible and practical FAA states reductions of up to 25 percent of the administrative positions in Washington headquarters and field offices will be made in FY 1995 and up to 50 percent by FY 1999. A new high level agency review of all air traffic staffing standards, including overhead requirements, is now under way with revisions to overhead guidelines expected within the next year. With these changes, the recommendations are no longer as applicable. The recommendations from FAA's review of all air traffic staffing standards now become important new policy options to be considered when review is completed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to base its overhead staffing requirements on operational needs and facility workload.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA has revised its training pipeline to reflect allowances for growth and losses due to retirements, attrition, etc.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to refine the controller pipeline formula to reflect both historical attrition and anticipated losses. For example, the pipeline allowance could: (1) cover a percentage of either the budget year's or a future year's retirement-eligible controllers; and (2) include additional positions for lower-level terminals, which serve as training grounds for controllers who progress to higher-level terminals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA agrees with the recommendation and is studying alternatives discussed in January 1989 at the FAA air traffic division managers' conference. It is now a mandatory checklist item in the National Evaluation Process.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to require field facilities to establish tracking systems to verify how frequently supervisors and other staff are working as controllers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: All air traffic staffing standards have been completed and used for budget requests.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to revise the terminal and center staffing standards to better reflect actual field operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Information on standards is not included in any training class. The program office requested inclusion, but the FAA training center never responded.

    Recommendation: To improve the process it uses to determine air traffic controller staffing requirements, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to train facility managers on the staffing standards and process and in ways to use the standards to maximize resource utilization.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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