Air Traffic Control:

Observations on FAA's Modernization Program

T-RCED/AIMD-98-93: Published: Feb 26, 1998. Publicly Released: Feb 26, 1998.

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John H. Anderson, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) program to modernize its National Airspace System (NAS), focusing on: (1) the status of key modernization projects; (2) FAA's actions to implement recommendations to correct modernization problems; and (3) the opportunities and challenges facing FAA as it embarks upon its new modernization approach.

GAO noted that: (1) since 1982, Congress has appropriated over $25 billion to the modernization program; (2) while FAA has fielded some equipment, historically, the agency has experienced considerable difficulty in delivering systems with promised cost and schedule parameters; (3) as a result, FAA has been forced to implement costly interim projects; (4) meanwhile, two key systems--the Wide Area Augmentation System and the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System--have encountered cost increases and schedule delays; (5) GAO's work has pinpointed the root causes of FAA's modernization problems and has recommended actions to overcome them; (6) most recently, GAO found shortcomings in the areas of systems architecture or the overall modernization blueprint, cost estimating and accounting, software acquisition, and organizational culture; (7) although FAA has begun to implement many of GAO's recommendations, sustained management attention is required to improve the management of the modernization program; (8) FAA is collaborating with and seeking commitment from users in developing a new approach to make the modernization less costly and to provide earlier user benefits; (9) the challenge for FAA is to have disciplined processes in place in order to deliver projects as promised; and (10) FAA will also need to quickly address the looming year 2000 computer crisis to ensure that critical air traffic control systems do not malfunction or produce inaccurate information simply because the date has changed.