Automated Technologies: DOT Should Take Steps to Ensure Its Workforce Has Skills Needed to Oversee Safety
Automated technologies in planes, trains, and passenger vehicles can perform tasks without the need for human operators—like crash avoidance systems that automatically slow cars down to avoid a collision. The Department of Transportation needs a workforce with skills related to these technologies in order to ensure the technologies are safe to use.
The department has made some progress hiring people with these skills but hasn't evaluated its recruitment strategies. Officials also haven't fully assessed whether current staff in key areas like cybersecurity have the skills they need.
Our recommendations address these issues.
What GAO Found
Stakeholders GAO interviewed said that federal oversight of automated technologies—such as those that control a function or task of a plane, train, or vehicle without human intervention—requires regulatory expertise as well as engineering, data analysis, and cybersecurity skills. Stakeholders also stated that as automated systems become more common across transportation modes, overseeing them will require understanding vehicle operating systems, software code, and the vast amounts of data produced by these systems to ensure their safety.
Skills Needed to Oversee the Safety of Automated Technologies, according to Stakeholders
The U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Departmental Office of Human Resources Management has identified most skills DOT needs to oversee automated technologies, but it has not fully assessed whether its workforce has these skills. Through its workforce planning efforts, DOT identified many of the skills cited by stakeholders as important for overseeing automated technologies—regulatory expertise, engineering, and data analysis. In 2016 and 2020, DOT surveyed staff in related positions and identified gaps in some of these skills, including regulatory expertise. However, DOT did not survey staff or assess skill gaps in data analysis or cybersecurity positions important to automated technology oversight. As a result, DOT lacks critical information needed to identify skill gaps and ensure key relevant staff are equipped to oversee the safety of these technologies now and in the future.
DOT developed strategies to address some but not all gaps in skills needed to oversee automated technologies. For example, DOT implemented some recruiting strategies and established hiring goals as a means of closing gaps identified in the 2016 survey and plans to continue these efforts in light of the 2020 survey. However, DOT has not tracked the progress of strategies implemented to close skill gaps since the 2016 survey, nor has it implemented training strategies. Accordingly, some skill gaps related to overseeing the safety of automated technologies will likely persist in DOT's workforce.
Why GAO Did This Study
Automated technologies in planes, trains, and passenger vehicles are in use today and likely to become increasingly widespread. While these technologies hold promise, accidents involving them demonstrate potential safety challenges. DOT is responsible for overseeing the safety of all modes of transportation.
This report addresses: (1) stakeholders' perspectives on the skills required to oversee automated technologies; (2) the extent to which DOT has identified and assessed the skills it needs to oversee these technologies; and (3) the extent to which DOT has developed strategies to address any gaps in skills. GAO reviewed relevant literature and DOT workforce planning documents, and interviewed DOT human capital officials, selected modal administrations, and stakeholders, including transportation associations and technology developers. GAO selected modal administrations based in part on the prevalence of automated technologies.
GAO is making four recommendations, including that DOT: (1) assess skill gaps in key occupations involved in overseeing automated technologies and (2) regularly measure the progress of strategies implemented to close skill gaps. DOT concurred with three recommendations and partially concurred with one on measuring progress. GAO clarified this recommendation and believes its implementation is warranted.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Transportation||The Director of DOT's Department of Human Resources should complete efforts to identify all cybersecurity occupations across the agency, and incorporate those related to overseeing the cybersecurity of automated technologies into its workforce planning efforts, such as the Workforce Transformation Chart. (Recommendation 1)||
DOT agreed with this recommendation. In May 2022, DOT reported to us that it had completed identifying all cybersecurity occupations across the agency and had identified more than 2,000 positions with duties related to the safety of automated technologies. To fully implement this recommendation, DOT needs to determine how it will incorporate these positions into its workforce planning efforts, such as the Workforce Transformation Chart. We will continue to follow DOT's efforts in this area.
|Department of Transportation||
Priority Rec.The Director of DOT's Department of Human Resources should assess skill gaps in key occupations that are involved in overseeing the safety of automated technologies. (Recommendation 2)
DOT agreed with this recommendation. In May 2022, DOT noted that it had recently finished determining which DOT positions that oversee the safety of automated technologies require cybersecurity skills, and that DOT planned to build a tool to assess competencies and skill gaps within these positions. DOT estimated it would complete this effort by February 2023. While cybersecurity skills are important for overseeing the safety of automated technologies, other skills-such as data analysis-are also important. To fully implement this recommendation, DOT needs to complete its plan to assess skill gaps in all relevant cybersecurity positions and to also assess skill gaps in relevant data analysis occupations. We will continue to follow DOT's efforts in this area.
|Department of Transportation||The Director of DOT's Department of Human Resources should regularly measure the progress of strategies implemented to close skill gaps—such as on an annual basis—and ensure modal administrations offer training to close those gaps. (Recommendation 3)||
DOT partially agreed with this recommendation. In May 2022, DOT noted that the workgroup it formed to design and enhance efforts to identify, monitor, and measure and track mitigation of competency skill gaps is pairing assessed skill gaps with learning content and courses. Further, DOT is building a "competency model" that will allow workgroup members to monitor and track skill gap closure by tracking course completion. DOT estimated it would complete this effort by September 2024. We will review these efforts as they are completed.
|Department of Transportation||The Director of DOT's Department of Human Resources should collect and analyze information on the effectiveness of recruiting strategies, such as special payment authorities, in attracting staff to occupations that oversee the safety of automated technologies, and share effective strategies with modal administrations. (Recommendation 4)||
DOT agreed with this recommendation. In May 2022, DOT's Department of Human Resources noted that it had met with all modal administrations in April 2022 to discuss DOT recruitment strategies, a diversity outreach calendar, and targeted recruitment of individuals with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) skills. However, DOT did not provide evidence of its efforts to analyze the effectiveness of its current and future recruitment strategies. We will review additional information from DOT as it is provided.