Aviation Acquisition:

A Comprehensive Strategy Is Needed for Cultural Change at FAA

RCED-96-159: Published: Aug 22, 1996. Publicly Released: Aug 22, 1996.

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Gerald Dillingham, Ph.D.
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) management of its acquisition process, focusing on: (1) whether the FAA organizational culture has contributed to persistent acquisition problems; and (2) potential management improvements that could result from FAA organizational change.

GAO found that: (1) the FAA organizational culture has been an underlying cause of FAA acquisition problems; (2) employees' attitudes do not reflect FAA focus on accountability, coordination, or adaptability; (3) FAA acquisition officials make little or no mission needs analyses, set unrealistic cost and schedule estimates, and begin production before systems development and testing is completed; (4) FAA fails to enforce accountability for defining systems requirements or for contract oversight; (5) the hierarchical FAA structure fosters a controlling environment, diminishes employee empowerment, and impedes information sharing; (6) FAA operations and development divisions have separate and distinct lines of authority and communications, which impedes coordination; (7) FAA officials are resistant to making needed changes in their acquisition process because FAA culture rewards conservatism and conformity and discourages innovation; (8) recognizing its need to improve the acquisition process through cultural change, FAA implemented a reform effort based on cross-functional, integrated product teams, and introduced a new acquisition management system; (9) FAA believes the product teams will improve accountability and coordination and infuse a more mission-oriented focus into the acquisition process; and (10) FAA has approved only one product team plan because it is still having difficulty in gaining the strong commitment of all employees who have a stake in the acquisition process and in forging partnerships across organizational divisions.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 1996, GAO completed a report on FAA's acquisition of air traffic control equipment that revealed self-defeating patterns of organizational and individual behavior serving as a root cause of persistent cost, schedule, and performance problems GAO had identified over the years. In its report, GAO recommended that FAA develop a comprehensive strategy for cultural change. In June 1997, FAA issued a Strategy for Acquisition Culture Change, as part of its initial efforts to make meaningful and measurable improvements in its acquisition management. GAO sees FAA's report as an important building block in its long-term efforts to change the agency's culture.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to develop a comprehensive strategy for cultural change. This strategy should include specific responsibilities and performance measures for all stakeholders throughout the agency and provide the incentives needed to promote the desired behaviors and to achieve agencywide cultural change.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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