IG: FAA modernization still beset with rising costs, delays

The Federal Aviation Administration still suffers from cost growth, schedule delays and performance shortfalls with its major acquisitions, and is stalling air traffic modernization, according to the Transportation Department's Office of the Inspector General.

For example, FAA is now emphasizing sustaining the National Airspace System as opposed to increasing capacity through its major acquisitions portfolio.

The agency must extract more out of its limited resources given its record with its major acquisitions and the declining level of facilities and equipment funds, the IG said in a report released yesterday. Over the next three years, FAA will spend more than one-half of its funds targeted for air traffic acquisitions for four major projects. It will leave little room for more cost growth, schedule delays or new initiatives.

FAA still is grappling with developing reliable cost, schedule and performance baselines for its existing projects and determining the total cost to complete implementation of the projects, the report said. FAA also needs to specify what capabilities and benefits each project provides the National Airspace System and when the benefits will be delivered, as well as justify why the projects should be continued.

The IG recommended FAA re-baseline its programs and report to Congress the result of validating the reliability of its program estimates. 'When baselines are not met, the agency cannot accurately anticipate either resource requirements or capabilities in the future,' said David Dobbs, Transportation's assistant inspector general for aviation programs and special audits.

'FAA is now in the unenviable position of funding projects that have been delayed for years while embarking on an ambitious $2.1 billion project,' Dobbs said. The En Route Automation Modernization program, one of the largest and most complex in FAA's modernization portfolio, replaces the brain and central nervous system for facilities that manage high-altitude traffic. By 2007, FAA will be spending $30 million a month alone on that program, the report said.

Of the 16 projects GAO reviewed from September through March, 11 will experience a total cost growth of approximately $5.6 billion, which is more than double the amount of FAA's fiscal 2005 facilities and equipment funding of $2.5 billion. Nine of the 16 projects will have schedule slips from two to 12 years based on current estimates, while two programs, the Local Area Augmentation System and Next Generation Air/Ground Communications, have been deferred.

Last year FAA re-baselined one of its major programs, the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS), which replaces controller workstations with color displays, processors and applications. FAA reduced deployment to 50 sites and retained some older versions called Common ARTS at some sites.

The agency is in the process of re-baselining the program again. If it decides to implement STARS at the 162 sites as originally planned, the cost would total $2.76 billion including technology refresh, $1 billion more than originally estimated. It would also take seven years longer, until 2012, to roll out to all sites. Escalating costs and schedule delays have resulted in 'urgent concern' over the aging displays at four large sites, including Chicago and Denver, the IG said [see GCN story]. FAA won't replace displays at large sites until fiscal 2008.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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