FAA: Learning the hard way

The Federal Aviation Administration's decision to scale back its program for modernizing air traffic control over the oceans because of budget pressures should raise a red flag for all federal agencies which are now planning for fiscal 1998.

While it is common enough for Congress to cut funding for technically troubled programs - the FAA has plenty of experience there - it is less common for an agency to take an ax to a high-profile proj-ect on its own initiative particularly so early in the process.But the FAA has taken a path other agencies must soon follow. Budget levels are expected to drop precipitously between 1997 and 2002 forcing agencies to begin making painful decisions.

The FAA for its purposes established a basic criterion for evaluating the worth of a program: It must result in demonstrable productivity gains for the FAA and measurable operating efficiencies for the aviation community.

That formula gives the FAA a lot of room to work but at least it makes cost-benefit analysis an elemental factor in IT planning. While that may seem obvious the lack of such analysis has become the central thrust of numerous General Accounting Office investigations and funding cuts by Congress.

Ultimately the agencies not Congress are the best judges of the relative value of their IT initiatives.That is the lesson the FAA apparently has learned.

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