Congress wants faster modernization of airport terminal displays

Congress passed an appropriations bill last Friday that contained compromise language that bolsters the Federal Aviation Administration's terminal automation projects and urged the agency to quickly sign a contract with a third party to hasten the process.

The Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development and related agencies appropriations bill for fiscal 2006, HR 3058, also granted only $3 million for the White House's E-Government fund'a familiar refrain from lawmakers who have remained skeptical of this initiative.

The bill now moves to the president for his signature.

Senators approved the bill just hours after the House did so, and not long after a conference committee consisting of members from both chambers hammered out a compromise over separate spending bills lawmakers passed earlier this year.

A top priority for lawmakers has been FAA's terminal automation replacement and modernization project. Congress has provided the agency $20 million to replace aging terminal displays in radar control towers at airports in Chicago, Denver, St. Louis and Minneapolis.

FAA earlier this month asked industry for descriptions of their modernization systems with the intent to award a contract in January 2007. Congress has asked the agency to pick up the pace.

'The conferees are concerned that the competition for the replacement of these four aging systems, which is only being offered to a limited number of vendors, is expected to take up to 15 months,' the conference report said. 'The conferees encourage FAA to expedite consideration of proposals and make an award or awards, as the case may be, as soon as possible.'

Elsewhere in the bill, the White House's e-government initiatives were cut again as conferees went with the House's $3 million allotment and required any agency using these funds to submit a report to Congress on how the money will be used and what benefits it will provide. The Senate had granted e-government programs $5 million.

Also, the compromise bill adopts Senate language that makes it easier for agency employees to compete for contractor jobs. Specifically, the bill precludes agencies from hiring contractors for services performed by 10 or more federal employees unless a cost-benefit analysis demonstrates that the contractor would either save the agency 10 percent or $10 million, whichever is less.

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