Agency data management plan doesn’t fly, GAO says

The FAA is preparing to use more data in its risk management, but the efforts fall short, a new report says.

The Federal Aviation Administration is moving toward improved use of data to identify and reduce risks, but its strategy for managing the data, analysis and staffing for that work isn't sufficient, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The agency has a long history of analyzing aircraft accidents and safety incidents to prevent their recurrence. It now is boosting its capabilities to analyze data proactively to identify new and ongoing risks with the goal of preventing incidents, states the GAO report released today.

The FAA intends to have the initial capabilities of its Safety Management System in place by year’s end and is improving its access to industry data and its capabilities for automated processing of data as part of that work. In a related program, the agency also is developing the Next Generation Air Transportation System traffic management system.

The FAA is also developing a data management plan for the safety system, but the plan falls short in several areas, the report said.

The data management plan “does not fully address data, analysis, or staffing requirements,” GAO said. “Without such requirements, the plan will not provide timely guidance for implementing the Safety Management System.”

For example, with regard to access to data, although many air carriers participate in the FAA’s voluntary data submission programs, many do not and the FAA hasn't made much headway in changing that pattern, GAO said.

In addition, there are weaknesses in the quality of the data collected by air safety agfency, the report noted.

“All the databases GAO reviewed had at least some controls in place to ensure that erroneous data are identified, reported, and corrected. However, about half the databases lack an important control — managers do not review the data prior to entry into the data system,” the report said.

The GAO report makes four recommendations for improvements, and FAA officials generally agreed with the evaluation. The recommendations, which FAA leaders agreed to consider, are:

  • Develop and implement a comprehensive plan to address data utilization in safety oversight that includes attention to data quality, analytics and staffing requirements;
  • Extend standard quality controls to databases used for aviation safety;
  • Develop the capability to model risks associated with the NextGen national airspace system;
  • Identify the reasons for lack of voluntarily-submitted data from carriers and take steps to increase participation.

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