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GAO discussed issues concerning the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) effectiveness in ensuring aviation safety in light of recent proposals to make FAA an independent agency. GAO found that: (1) FAA modernization of air traffic control equipment under the National Airspace System (NAS) Plan was one of the largest civilian procurements ever undertaken; (2) NAS costs have risen from the 1981 estimate of $12 billion to an estimated $24 billion by the year 2000; (3) NAS delays have resulted from unrealistic schedules and technology development problems; (4) although FAA must manage over 44,000 personnel to achieve its mission, its staffing standards are inadequate to address its work-force shortages; (5) FAA dependence on the Office of Personnel Management to conduct prospective employee exams and investigations caused hiring delays; (6) Department of Transportation (DOT) oversight of FAA was instrumental in improving security and inspection programs; and (7) although the Aviation Trust Fund had a projected surplus of about $5 billion, legislation restricted the fund's availability to cover work-force salaries and projected needs. GAO believes that Congress may wish to consider: (1) changing the fund's tax and fee structure to provide for its use in financing FAA costs while retaining congressional authorization and appropriation oversight; and (2) whether an independent FAA would best serve the long-term interests of transportation policy and aviation.

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