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Highlights

Airports are a vital part of the nation's air transportation system and face many similar challenges. In 2003, the Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) was authorized to conduct applied research to help airport operators solve shared challenges that are not addressed by other federal research. As requested, this report addresses (1) the extent to which ACRP's processes reflect criteria for conducting a high-quality research program and (2) ACRP's results to date and their usefulness for the aviation community. GAO reviewed ACRP documentation and compared ACRP processes to criteria previously developed by GAO that can be applied to research programs. These criteria identify three phases of the applied research process and steps to help produce high-quality results. GAO also reviewed ACRP projects and publications and interviewed ACRP stakeholders and airport officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation 1. To better align key program documentation with ACRP program practices as implemented and to increase the transparency and stability of the program over time, the Secretary of Transportation should take steps to revise the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Department of Transportation and the National Academy of Sciences, and other appropriate documentation, such that (1) all organizations, including ex-officio members, that are involved in ACRP Oversight Committee (AOC) proceedings are included in program documentation, and (2) project selection procedures documented in the MOA are supplemented to include, as an option, a consensus-based approach in addition to voting procedures, and a more explicitly defined role for ex-officio members in project selection.
Closed - Implemented
In 2010, we reported that the Air Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) had implemented many practices and procedures that help to assure the production of high-quality applied research, but gaps existed in some areas of its research processes. The program's documented operating procedures did not reflect (1) the involvement of the Airport Consultants Council (ACC) on the ACRP Oversight Committee (AOC) (2) the enhanced role of ex-officio members in project selection decisions, and (3) the AOC's current consensus-driven approach to selecting projects. This incomplete documentation of certain program practices potentially diminished the transparency of some aspects of the AOC's operations. Therefore, we recommended that the Department of Transportation, and other relevant entities, revise key program documentation to align with actual board membership and that ACRP use its project selection rules. In 2010, ACC was formally appointed to ACRP's governing board and program documentation--such as annual reports--was updated accordingly. Additionally, the governing board holds a formal vote--after the board discusses proposed projects--to make project selections. In 2013, we confirmed that ACC's appointment is reflected in updated documentation and continued adherence to formal project selection practices provide greater program transparency and stability, as intended by our recommendation, and substantively address the gaps we identified in our report. As a result, ACRP operations are more transparent to program stakeholders.
Department of Transportation 2. To clarify the role of ACRP in conducting security research, the Secretary of Transportation should take steps to encourage the AOC--in collaboration with other key federal agencies and stakeholders--to clearly articulate ACRP's role, if any, in conducting security research and, subsequently, to ensure that ACRP's program documentation clearly and accurately reflects this role, such that airport operators and others can readily understand what to expect of the program in this area.
Closed - Implemented
In 2010, we reported that the Air Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) had produced a variety of high-quality and useful results for the airport industry, according to the officials we interviewed. However, the program's role in conducting security research was unclear. ACRP materials, such as its annual solicitation of project ideas, included security as a potential topic within the scope of the program. However, the ACRP Oversight Committee (AOC) had not generally funded security projects, in part because of differing views about whether ACRP should do this research. Airport security was certainly a concern shared by airport operators and AOC members. Given the significant amount of aviation security research that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had conducted, ACRP may or may not have been the appropriate venue to address unmet needs of airports in this area. Although FAA had stated that ACRP should not conduct security research, it was the responsibility of the AOC as a whole, of which FAA was a part, to determine what role, if any, the program had in this area. The AOC had discussed the program's role in addressing security, but it was not clear what actions, if any, it planned to take to resolve the lack of clarity. This lack of agreement among AOC members about the program's role in addressing security research had left the program, in effect, not addressing security research, but holding out the possibility that it could do so. Therefore, we recommended that the Department of Transportation, with the involvement of other relevant entities, clearly articulate ACRP's role, if any, in security research and update program documentation accordingly. Between 2010 and 2013, FAA, the Transportation Research Board (TRB), and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) conferred about each entity's role in airport security research. A memorandum of agreement between FAA and TSA, signed in 2011, explains that ACRP will continue to accept and review security research proposals, but will forward these proposals to the TSA for evaluation and possible inclusion in a research program it manages. The memorandum of agreement also requires a process for soliciting security research proposal from the airport community and the wide distribution of research reports to the airport community. Finally, the solicitation for fiscal year 2015 projects disseminated to the airport community does not include security as a project area. As a result, AOC members--who represent airports and other industry stakeholders--have a better understanding of what research can be expected from ACRP.

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