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Highlights

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) efforts to address short- and long-term controller staffing needs, focusing on: (1) the key variables FAA uses to project future controller staffing needs and evaluate their reasonableness; (2) whether FAA has identified a sufficient number of controller candidates to satisfy its short- and long-term staffing needs and evaluate FAA's plans to train new controllers; and (3) impediments that hinder FAA from staffing air traffic control (ATC) facilities at specified levels.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to incorporate actual information on the age, years of service, and retirement eligibility date of current controllers into its projections of future controller retirements.
Closed - Implemented

Recommendation status is Closed - Implemented.

FAA has developed a computer program that incorporates actual information on the age, years of service, and retirement eligibility date for controllers currently working at air traffic control facilities, to better predict future controller retirements. The program became fully operational in August 1998. Also, FAA has developed a computer program that allows the agency to monitor attrition in the controller workforce on a monthly basis and, thereby, more accurately assess staffing needs. The program is used to produce monthly controller staffing reports.
Department of Transportation The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to determine, for future planning purposes, when former Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization members currently in the controller candidate pool will become eligible to retire and would need to be replaced, by evaluating demographic data, such as the former controllers' age, years spent actually controlling traffic, and years of potential retirement eligibility.
Closed - Not Implemented

Recommendation status is Closed - Not Implemented.

According to FAA officials, in May 1997, they initiated efforts to determine when many of the over 4,000 former PATCO controllers would become eligible to retire, if rehired by the FAA. They found this effort to be very labor-intensive, time consuming, and difficult because personnel data about the controllers' work history was not computerized until after 1981. Therefore, for future planning purposes, FAA officials decided that the most efficient and economical approach would be to calculate retirement eligibility dates for former PATCO controllers when they are rehired. When a former PATCO controller is hired, FAA evaluates demographic data, such as age and actual years of service prior to the 1981 strike, to determine his potential "eligible retirement date".
Department of Transportation The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to monitor the training costs for Collegiate Training Initiative and Mid-America Resource Consortium graduates hired in FY 1997 and 1998, who will be trained under the old and new programs, to determine whether the anticipated savings will be realized and whether such savings will offset the increased costs of providing centralized training at the FAA Academy.
Closed - Implemented

Recommendation status is Closed - Implemented.

FAA has not performed a comparison of new controller training costs to determine whether anticipated savings will be realized because very few Collegiate Training Initiative and Mid-America Resource Consortium graduates were trained under the old program in FY 1997 and no graduates have been trained under the new program, which became effective in October 1997. Nevertheless, FAA has established procedures and computer codes to monitor controller training costs. FAA plans to began monitoring controller training costs around the second quarter of FY 1999, when more controllers are expected to go through the program.

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