Air Traffic Control:

Ineffective Management Plagues $1.7-Billion Radar Program

IMTEC-90-37: Published: May 31, 1990. Publicly Released: Jul 3, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Mode Select (Mode S) air traffic control surveillance and communication program.

GAO found that: (1) it had previously questioned FAA procurement practices and cited Mode S as a system for which FAA prematurely awarded a production contract; (2) FAA has not resolved Mode S technical problems, but expects the contractor to deliver the first fully capable system for deployment in 1993, 5 years later than planned; (3) technical problems have led to extensive schedule delays; (4) FAA officials did not fully appreciate the severity of the problems until 1989; (5) FAA failed to analyze its requirements prior to buying 259 additional systems; and (6) FAA did not justify its investment in Mode S, because it did not properly analyze its requirements, consider alternatives, or evaluate system benefits and costs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA conducted an audit of Mode S that concluded that: (1) contract work is proceeding in a satisfactory manner; (2) the system had no serious design flaws; (3) FAA is developing a risk abatement plan to address the few remaining areas of program risk; and (4) continuation of contract work is the most cost-effective alternative.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should independently evaluate the economic, operational, and technical risks involved in continuing the Mode S contract. Based on the results of this evaluation, the Secretary should direct the Administrator, FAA, to take appropriate and timely action to ensure that additional government funds are not wasted.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Transportation (DOT) agreed with the recommendation and stated that no contracting activity for additional systems will begin until DOT acquisition justification requirements are satisfied.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to cancel plans to replace remaining beacon radars with Mode S and to perform a thorough analysis of requirements, alternatives, benefits, and costs. If the analysis supports replacing remaining beacon systems with Mode S, no decision to acquire additional Mode S systems should be made until the system is demonstrated to work and provide anticipated benefits.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOT agreed with the recommendation and reported the weaknesses in its 1990 FMFIA report.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should report the FAA contract administration and major system procurement processes as containing material internal control weaknesses under the Federal Managers' Financial Integrity Act (FMFIA).

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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