Federal Aviation Administration:

Challenges in Modernizing the Agency

T-RCED/AIMD-00-87: Published: Feb 3, 2000. Publicly Released: Feb 3, 2000.

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John H. Anderson, Jr
(202) 512-8024


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the challenges the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) faces in continuing to provide for the safe, orderly, and expeditious flow of air traffic in U.S. airspace, focusing on the: (1) key areas that have hampered FAA's ability to achieve desired outcomes; (2) various proposals for restructuring FAA; and (3) next steps for FAA and Congress to take to ensure that the agency can address its challenges effectively and efficiently.

GAO noted that: (1) FAA's efforts to implement initiatives in five key areas--air traffic control, modernization, procurement, and personnel reform, aviation safety, aviation and computer security, and financial management--have met with limited success; (2) FAA has established an acquisition management system to reduce the time and cost of fielding new products and services; (3) however, in many of the five areas, FAA has frequently not developed comprehensive plans, thus underestimating the complexity involved in developing new systems, and has often not adequately overseen the development and implementation of these systems; (4) as a result, although progress has been made in each of these areas, cost overruns, delays, and performance shortfalls have occurred; (5) the proposals to restructure FAA, although significantly different from one another, have a common objective--the more efficient and effective modernization of the air traffic control system; (6) these proposals include creating a government-owned or private corporation or emphasizing performance for air traffic control through a new performance-based structure within FAA; (7) one proposal would establish FAA as an independent agency to better achieve its mission, including its efforts to modernize the air traffic control system; (8) however, to be effective, restructuring will need to address the fundamental problems affecting the modernization of the air traffic control system, such as the lack of a complete systems architecture, a sophisticated process for acquiring software acquisitions, sound financial management practices, and an effective organizational culture; (9) while FAA's initiatives have met with some success, GAO's work shows that many of these initiatives have been undertaken without paying enough attention to factors critical to achieving desired results--establishing baseline data, priorities, a game plan for addressing root causes, and an evaluation plan to measure progress; (10) with the pressing need for improved FAA performance, overseeing FAA's implementation of its initiatives and critical management reforms is of paramount importance; and (11) for this reason, GAO believes continuing congressional oversight is critical to ensure that FAA successfully meets the challenges of maintaining safety and improving efficiencies in light of the expected growth in air travel.