Interim Observations on FAA's Plans for Major Systems Acquisitions

IMTEC-84-14: Published: May 4, 1984. Publicly Released: May 24, 1984.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided observations on the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) acquisition of computer systems, focusing on: (1) technical risks of the new host computer system and their potential impact on program performance and milestones; (2) the desirability of full-scale acquisition of the Mode S system; and (3) the adequacy of the overall design and acquisition strategy for the Advanced Automation System (AAS).

FAA is developing and acquiring a new host computer system to accommodate several long-term functional improvements in its air traffic control (ATC) systems. The project involves transferring existing software to modern computers, which is known as re-hosting software to a host computer. GAO believes that FAA: (1) may have underestimated the technical complexity of re-hosting software; and (2) is not planning to adequately test and evaluate software changes to ensure software reliability. The Mode S system is a secondary surveillance radar and computer-to-cockpit data link that may not become available until the early 1990's. GAO noted: (1) that several promising alternatives may become available before Mode S, and that such alternatives may offer better coverage, accuracy, and capacity than Mode S, at a lower cost to FAA; and (2) concerns that the extent to which Mode S will improve current ATC systems will not justify the investment in Mode S. AAS is intended to provide FAA with the computer capability to handle the expected increase in air traffic in the future. GAO believes that FAA may be proceeding with AAS system design efforts without fully defining the functional requirements for the system and noted certain inadequacies in the solicitation for potential system design contractors that was issued by FAA.