Move to legislation angers FAA officials

The House Science Committee has angered Federal Aviation Administration officials by attempting to put into law some of the key concepts of the agency's recently enacted acquisition system.

The FAA said language in the Omnibus Science Authorization bill, marked up in full committee last week, prematurely commits the agency to specific elements of its acquisition strategy.

The FAA began using its self-styled acquisition system earlier this month after being freed from many Federal Acquisition Regulations by the 1996 Department of Transportation Appropriations Act.

"I am surprised legislation may be suggested to addend the authorization we have just received on April 1," FAA administrator David R. Hinson said at a recent hearing. Instead, the FAA would hope to work to address any concerns of the committee "without legislation," Hinson said.

The language was originally drafted by the Technology subcommittee as the "FAA Research, Engineering and Development Reform Act of 1996" before being added to the authorization bill last week.

Praising the FAA's creation of an acquisition system, chairwoman Connie Morella (R-Md.) said the legislation "pretty much codifies" the new system to ensure it outlasts the current cast of players.

"You may be moving in the right direction, and you've got a good team, but who knows what may happen [in the years ahead]," Morella said.

`Management Principles'

The committee spelled out nine "management principles" the FAA must incorporate in its acquisition management system. The principles include a focus on full life-cycle acquisition management, with the involvement of both acquisition and operational FAA personnel, as well as the "continuous involvement" of National Airspace System operators and users, advisory committees and industry vendors.

The committee also called for the FAA to balance system design requirements and constraints with cost-benefit analysis and to link major interim program decisions with "demonstrated accomplishments" in research, engineering and development.

These and other principles simply "mirror" the FAA's own reform document, Morella said.

However, the FAA believes putting elements of its system into law erodes the much-needed flexibility it has been given by the Appropriations Act.

The FAA already plans to have an independent assessment of its system after three years, said George Donohue, associate administrator for research and acquisitions at the FAA. At that point, if not before, the agency needs the leverage to fine-tune the system in whatever way necessary.

"The flexibility we have with the current statutes is the right way to do it," Donohue said. "Once you get a law written, it's difficult to make a change."

Hinson had hoped to work something out with the committee before seeing any legislation proposed. "We have been working very hard to do what Congress suggested we do [in the Appropriations Act]," Hinson told the panel. "We are more than willing to sit down with your committee and talk about it."

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