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GAO’s Physical Infrastructure Team

Posted on January 27, 2015
GAO’s workforce is organized largely by subject area, with most employees working in 1 of 14 mission teams. Today, we’ll spotlight the Physical Infrastructure (PI) team, which helps Congress and federal agencies better manage the physical infrastructure network that connects the nation and bolsters its economy. Reports PI team reports cover 6 issue areas:
  1. Surface Transportation: Focusing on passenger and freight transportation safety and financing, reports have discussed mileage-based user fees, freight rail safety, rural and tribal transit, and natural gas pipeline integrity.
  2. Aviation Transportation: Reports have addressed the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), unmanned aircraft systems (often referred to as “drones”), and the aviation maintenance and pilot workforces.
  3. Postal Issues: These reports typically cover the U.S. Postal Service’s financial condition, benefits programs, and delivery system.
  4. Federal Properties: Work on federal properties has included security risk assessments, federal warehouse utilization, structure management, and deferred repair and maintenance.
  5. Telecommunications: We have issued reports on consumer-location data privacy, GPS disruptions that could affect critical infrastructure, financial support to rural broadband access providers, and requirements for wireless service licensees to build infrastructure and use their assigned spectrum.
  6. Special Topics: In 2014, these included U.S. coin inventory management, currency for the visually impaired, Arctic commercial maritime activities, and Recovery Act grant management.
Impact In fiscal year 2014, PI’s work identified $1.5 billion in financial benefits for the federal government, as well as other efficiencies. In addition, directors from PI testified at 18 congressional hearings and contributed to 2 other hearings. A Closer Look at a PI Report: Airline Pilot Availability In February 2014, PI reported on commercial airline pilot availability. Recent industry forecasts indicate that the global aviation industry is poised for growth. However, stakeholders have voiced concerns that a number of factors—such as retirements, fewer pilots exiting the military, and new flight-hour requirements for first officers—could result in a shortage of qualified airline pilots. We found mixed evidence regarding the extent of a pilot shortage when we looked at labor market data and information from associations and pilot schools. For example, although relatively low pilot unemployment rates might suggest a labor shortage, wages have not increased. In a shortage, higher wages would be expected, to draw would-be pilots to the profession. Nonetheless, regional airlines reported difficulties finding sufficient numbers of qualified pilots, and the supply of potential airline pilots has been declining. Between 2000 and 2012, the number of new commercial pilot certifications issued annually decreased by 17 percent, as shown below.


Excerpted from GAO-14-232

To attract and retain qualified pilots, airlines we interviewed have increased recruiting efforts and developed partnerships with schools to provide incentives and clearer career paths for new pilots. Further, airline representatives and pilot schools suggested that the Federal Aviation Administration could do more to allow various kinds of flight experience to count toward the new commercial pilots’ flight-hours requirements. Our podcast further explores potential shortages:
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