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GAO discussed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) human resource utilization, focusing on FAA controller, inspector, and airway facilities maintenance work forces. GAO noted that: (1) although planned productivity improvements have not yet materialized, FAA is controlling more air traffic with fewer controllers than it did before the 1981 controllers' strike; (2) FAA maintains that there were too many controllers before the strike; and (3) FAA believes that it implemented safeguards to prevent controllers from being overworked. However, GAO believes that FAA: (1) has not fully implemented the safeguards; (2) inappropriately bases its traffic flow control on airport capacities, rather than controller capacities; and (3) authorized controller staffing substantially below the levels that its standards called for. GAO also noted that: (1) FAA is taking action to improve its monitoring of airlines' compliance with flight safety and maintenance requirements by hiring additional staff and establishing minimum inspection standards, but it has no realistic basis for determining the number of additional inspectors it needs; (2) FAA plans to maintain its maintenance work force at a level 16 percent below the force's work load; (3) about 2,500 of the 8,300 FAA engineers and technicians will be eligible for retirement by 1990, and about 60 percent of the FAA maintenance work force will be eligible by 1995; (4) FAA needs to begin hiring people to bring its trained maintenance work force to the congressionally mandated level; and (5) while FAA has developed such airline safety indicators as operational errors and near-collisions, it has not identified safety indicators for airline maintenance practices.

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