Air Traffic Control:

Status of FAA's Modernization Program

RCED-99-25: Published: Dec 3, 1998. Publicly Released: Dec 3, 1998.

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John H. Anderson, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the status of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) air traffic control modernization program, focusing on the: (1) status of the overall modernization program, including its cost; (2) status of 18 key modernization projects; and (3) challenges facing the overall modernization program.

GAO noted that: (1) FAA, in collaboration with the aviation community, has taken steps to restructure its multibillion-dollar modernization program in order to achieve a more gradual and cost-effective approach by limiting the scope of projects to more manageable segments; (2) under FAA's new incremental approach, the agency plans to implement a new way of managing air traffic in order to provide immediate improvements for the system's safety, efficiency, and capacity; (3) under its most recent financial plan, FAA estimates that the total cost of modernization will be nearly $42 billion from fiscal year (FY) 1982 through FY 2004--a $3.8 billion increase since the agency's last financial plan in February 1998; (4) FAA's progress in meeting cost and schedule goals for its 18 key projects has been mixed; (5) under FAA's new phased approach to modernization, two projects in GAO's review--Aeronautical Data Link and Air Traffic Management--have been revised, resulting in new cost and schedule estimates for those components that are planned for implementation under free flight; (6) approximately two-thirds of the 18 projects are operating within cost and schedule estimates; (7) while FAA has taken action to address some of its long-standing problems, the agency still faces many challenges in effectively managing its multibillion-dollar investment in modernization; (8) FAA's internal evaluations and GAO's reviews have identified shortcomings in FAA's current process used to manage its investments in validating and prioritizing mission needs analyses, in establishing and monitoring baseline measurements for all projects, and in communicating and coordinating among cross-functional teams; (9) while FAA has begun to address some of the root causes of long-standing modernization problems that hinder its achievement of desired mission goals, these efforts are not yet complete; (10) GAO has identified problems with the agency's systems architecture, software acquisition processes, and organizational culture among those responsible for acquisitions; (11) FAA has actions under way to implement GAO's recommendations in all of these areas; (12) FAA has more work to do to ensure that its mission-critical air traffic control systems will work through the year 2000 date change and to determine how it will ensure the continuity of critical operations in the event of some systems' failures when January 1, 2000, arrives; and (13) FAA also has weaknesses in its computer security that will require action to ensure that air traffic control systems on which it depends are sufficiently resistant to intrusion.