Air Traffic Control

Observations on FAA's Modernization Program Gao ID: T-RCED/AIMD-98-93 February 26, 1998

To cope with increases in traffic volume, enhance safety margins, and boost the efficiency of the air traffic control system, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in late 1981 began a multibillion dollar effort to replace and upgrade the national airspace system's equipment and facilities. This modernization effort, however, has experienced many problems in meeting cost, schedule, and performance goals. As a result, the promised benefits of the new equipment have been delayed and the aviation community's confidence in FAA's ability to manage the modernization program has been undermined. GAO has included FAA's modernization program on its list of government programs at high-risk for waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement. FAA is now developing a new modernization approach. This testimony discusses (1) the status of key modernization projects, (2) FAA's actions to implement recommendations to correct modernization problems, and (3) the opportunities and challenges facing FAA as it embarks upon its new modernization approach.

GAO noted that: (1) since 1982, Congress has appropriated over $25 billion to the modernization program; (2) while FAA has fielded some equipment, historically, the agency has experienced considerable difficulty in delivering systems with promised cost and schedule parameters; (3) as a result, FAA has been forced to implement costly interim projects; (4) meanwhile, two key systems--the Wide Area Augmentation System and the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System--have encountered cost increases and schedule delays; (5) GAO's work has pinpointed the root causes of FAA's modernization problems and has recommended actions to overcome them; (6) most recently, GAO found shortcomings in the areas of systems architecture or the overall modernization blueprint, cost estimating and accounting, software acquisition, and organizational culture; (7) although FAA has begun to implement many of GAO's recommendations, sustained management attention is required to improve the management of the modernization program; (8) FAA is collaborating with and seeking commitment from users in developing a new approach to make the modernization less costly and to provide earlier user benefits; (9) the challenge for FAA is to have disciplined processes in place in order to deliver projects as promised; and (10) FAA will also need to quickly address the looming year 2000 computer crisis to ensure that critical air traffic control systems do not malfunction or produce inaccurate information simply because the date has changed.

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