Air Traffic Control:

FAA Needs to Implement an Effective Testing Program

IMTEC-89-62: Published: Sep 22, 1989. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) program for testing the air traffic control systems and equipment it procures under its National Airspace System (NAS) plan.

GAO found that: (1) a December 1986 FAA test and evaluation order sought to implement an independent contractor's recommendations for improving system testing, but did not address the roles of system users or establish effective controls to ensure compliance; (2) FAA established an operational test and evaluation group, but that group only reviewed those systems which cost at least $150 million, and subsequent agency reorganizations eliminated the group's independence from system developers and users; (3) FAA did not always conduct the testing necessary to ensure that systems worked as intended and were operationally suitable before proceeding with system production and deployment, resulting in schedule delays of up to 8 years for some systems; (4) 11 of 15 reviewed deployed systems did not comply with the December 1986 test order, and 7 of those systems lacked approved master test plans; (5) FAA issued a new test and evaluation order in February 1989 to overcome past testing deficiencies, but that order did not recognize the need for independent oversight; and (6) FAA top management has not provided the support necessary for implementing an effective test program.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), the recently revised test and evaluation order addresses all of the reported shortcomings, except for the independence issue. DOT stated that the recent FAA organizational realignment has addressed the issue of independence from the developers and users.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to revise the recently issued test policy by providing for a test and evaluation component organizationally independent of the development and user communities, in accordance with federal guidance. This independent component should be responsible for ensuring that adequate test plans and procedures are developed and that testing is successfully completed for all critical NAS systems. To discharge its responsibilities, the component should: (1) be responsible for reviewing all NAS systems it considers critical to safety, regardless of their cost; (2) be given test plans, procedures, and other documentation that it determines is necessary to assess tests and evaluations; and (3) review test results and report findings to an appropriate level.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOT stated that the recently established Test Policy and Planning Review Board will provide continuous management oversight.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to: (1) focus management attention on implementing fully the test and evaluation policy; and (2) periodically review the program to ensure its success.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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