Skip to Highlights
Highlights

In 2003, Congress created the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) to plan for and coordinate, with federal and nonfederal stakeholders, a transformation from the current air traffic control system to the "next generation air transportation system" (NGATS) by 2025. Housed within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), JPDO has seven partner agencies: the Departments of Transportation, Commerce, Defense, and Homeland Security; FAA; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. FAA will have primary responsibility for implementing NGATS. This report addresses (1) the status of JPDO's efforts to plan for NGATS, (2) the key challenges facing JPDO, and (3) the key challenges facing FAA as it implements the transformation. To address these issues, GAO reviewed relevant documents, interviewed agency officials and stakeholders, and conducted an expert panel.

Skip to Recommendations

Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation 1. Because of the importance of the successful planning and implementation of NGATS and the need for effective collaboration between diverse organizations, and to better institutionalize its practices and expectations for interagency collaboration and stakeholder involvement, the Secretary of Transportation should direct JPDO to finalize and present to the Senior Policy Committee for its consideration and action the memorandum of understanding among the partner agencies to define their roles and responsibilities related to NGATS planning and development.
Closed - Implemented
In 2006, we found that the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO), which helps to plan for the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), had not established practices significant to institutionalizing the collaborative process among its partner agencies. At a fundamental level, JPDO did not have formal, long-term agreements among its partner agencies (the Departments of Transportation, Commerce, Defense, and Homeland Security; the Federal Aviation Administration; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy) on their roles and responsibilities in creating NextGen. At the time, JPDO had begun working to establish a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among the partner agencies. We recommended that JPDO finalize the MOU and present it to its Senior Policy Committee for its consideration and action. In 2013, we confirmed that the JPDO partner agencies had an MOU in place, signed by the Secretaries of Transportation, Commerce, Homeland Security, and the Air Force, and the NASA Administrator, setting forth the formal agreement among the partner agencies to implement NextGen. As a result, JPDO has better institutionalized its practices and expectations for interagency collaboration and stakeholder involvement.
Department of Transportation 2. Because of the importance of the successful planning and implementation of NGATS and the need for effective collaboration between diverse organizations, the Secretary of Transportation should direct JPDO to clarify the roles and responsibilities between JPDO and Air Traffic Organization (ATO) in the planning, development, and transition from JPDO to FAA for implementation of NGATS.
Closed - Implemented
In 2006, we found that the roles and responsibilities between the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Air Traffic Organization (ATO) and its Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) for the planning and implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) were unclear. Defining roles and responsibilities is particularly important between ATO and JPDO because both organizations have responsibilities related to planning national airspace system modernization. Some expert panelists believed there was a need to identify the "gap" areas that might fall between ATO's efforts to maintain the current system and JPDO's plans for the NextGen system. Without continued focus on clarifying and institutionalizing the relationship between ATO and JPDO, it is more difficult to ensure continued progress toward NextGen. We recommended that the Secretary of Transportation clarify the roles and responsibilities between ATO and JPDO in the planning, development, and transition from JPDO to FAA for implementation of NextGen. In 2010, the Director of JPDO informed us that the Secretary of Transportation has moved JPDO organizationally. JPDO is no longer housed within ATO and reporting to the FAA Chief Operating Officer (the head of ATO). Rather, JPDO is now independent of ATO, reporting directly to the FAA Deputy Administrator and the Secretary of Transportation. In addition, the roles and responsibilities of ATO and JPDO have been clarified. Near-term (to 2015) implementation and mid-term (2015 to 2018) planning of NextGen are now defined as ATO's responsibility; long-term (beyond 2018) planning of NextGen is defined as the responsibility of JPDO. As a result of the improved clarity in the roles and responsibilities of the offices, the NextGen effort can be better managed because of reduced chances of duplicated effort, gaps in efforts, or conflict among offices. Also, clarified roles and responsibilities should help the offices form a more effective, collaborative environment for planning and implementing NextGen.
Department of Transportation 3. Because of the importance of the successful planning and implementation of NGATS and the need for effective collaboration between diverse organizations, the Secretary of Transportation should direct JPDO to develop written procedures that formalize agreements with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regarding the leveraging of partner agency resources and the identification of NGATS-related programs within agency budgets.
Closed - Not Implemented
The Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) discussed a process for identifying NextGen-related research programs in the partner agencies' budgets. Under this process, JPDO would prepare an Exhibit 300 form for NextGen, which would allow JPDO and its partner agencies to jointly present OMB with business cases for the partner agencies' NextGen-related efforts. A written agreement of procedures between the partner agencies to use the Exhibit 300 was to be laid out in the annex to the Memorandum of Agreement involving the JPDO agencies that was signed in June of 2008. The annex was never adopted. In fiscal year 2014, Congress eliminated funding for JPDO and the office no longer exists. Therefore, GAO is closing this recommendation as not implemented.
Department of Transportation 4. Because of the importance of the successful planning and implementation of NGATS and the need for effective collaboration between diverse organizations, the Secretary of Transportation should direct JPDO to develop written procedures for dispute resolution at all levels of the JPDO organization.
Closed - Not Implemented
Written procedures for dispute resolution were to be laid out in the annex to the memorandum of understanding that was signed in June of 2008. This annex was never agreed upon and never became part of the MOU. In April 2012, the JPDO Board reviewed the existing MOU and agreed that it -- without the annex -- was still acceptable and codified the responsibilities of the Board and board membership.
Department of Transportation 5. Because of the importance of the successful planning and implementation of NGATS and the need for effective collaboration between diverse organizations, the Secretary of Transportation should direct JPDO to better ensure the involvement of all key stakeholders in the NGATS planning process, by determining whether key stakeholders and expertise are not represented on JPDO's integrated product teams, divisions, or elsewhere within its organization. For example, JPDO should consider the addition of active, subject matter expert air traffic controllers to its integrated product teams.
Closed - Not Implemented
In 2014, Congress declined to fund the JPDO in the Fiscal Year 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act. As a result, FAA eliminated the JPDO. Prior to this, FAA did not take action addressing GAO's recommendation. FAA can no longer take any action due to the elimination of JPDO, so GAO is closing this recommendation as not implemented.
Department of Transportation 6. Given the technical complexity of the implementation of NGATS and FAA's past experiences, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA to undertake a formal exploration of FAA's strengths and weaknesses with regard to the technical expertise and contract management expertise that will be required to define, implement, and integrate the numerous complex programs and systems inherent in the transition to NGATS. For example, FAA should work to determine whether it will need to contract with an LSI, federally-funded not-for-profit corporation, or other technical or managerial entity to assist in the implementation of NGATS.
Closed - Implemented
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the primary entity responsible for implementing the NextGen Air Transportation System (NextGen), the air traffic control modernization program. From 1995 to 2009, GAO designated NextGen as high risk because of systematic management and acquisition problems. In 2006, GAO noted that a lack of expertise had contributed to weaknesses in FAA's past management of its air traffic control modernization projects. GAO found that industry experts with whom we spoke continued to question whether FAA would have the technical expertise necessary to implement NextGen. Experts said that FAA staff sometimes lacked the technical proficiency to oversee modernization projects and administer contracts. GAO found that FAA had not formally explored its strengths and weaknesses with regard to the technical expertise and contract management expertise that would be required to define, implement, and integrate the numerous complex programs and systems inherent in the transition to NextGen. Therefore, GAO recommended that FAA, given the technical complexity of implementing NextGen, undertake a formal exploration of its strengths and weaknesses with regard to the technical expertise and contract management expertise that will be required to define, implement, and integrate the numerous complex programs and systems inherent in the transition to NextGen. In response to GAO's recommendation, FAA engaged the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to conduct a workforce needs analysis that would (1) identify the skill sets required by FAA's acquisition workforce and (2) define strategies to obtain the expertise needed to design, develop, evaluate, test, integrate, and implement the complex activities inherent in the transition to NextGen. NAPA published its study in late 2008 and included several recommendations for FAA related to workforce planning issues. In the years since, FAA has taken steps to address the findings of the NAPA study. For example, in response to a NAPA recommendation to incorporate strategies to acquire and retain an acquisition workforce, FAA developed an Acquisition Workforce Strategy that it updates annually. FAA also created developmental curriculums and implementation resources for professions critical to modernizing the national airspace. This exploration by FAA of the technical and contract management expertise that it needs to implement NextGen, and the subsequent steps it has taken to acquire or address issues involving this expertise, should help FAA better implement and integrate the numerous complex programs and systems involved in the transition to NextGen.

Full Report