GAO: Culture slows IT overhaul

Deep-seated acquisition "culture" problems still threaten the Federal Aviation Administration's modernization programs despite recent major changes in the agency's procurement organization according to the General Accounting Office.

In a report titled "Aviation Acquisition: A Comprehensive Strategy Is Needed for Cultural Changes at FAA " GAO details numerous problems ranging from a lack of accountability coordination and adaptability to a widespread resistance to changes in procurement policy.

The FAA has attempted to address its procurement problems by instituting flexible progressive policies as part of its Acquisition Management System GAO said. However the report said these have not filtered down to lower levels of the agency which reduces their impact.

"The FAA has to change its culture if it is going to see the kind of progress it wants to make in its modernization programs " said Bob Levin system director for transportation issues at GAO. "They have recognized it themselves and want to make the changes."

GAO recommends that the FAA "develop a comprehensive strategy for cultural change."The report does not specify the particulars of such a plan saying instead that the agency should provide incentives "to promote the desired behaviors and to achieve agencywide cultural change."

The FAA declined to comment. However agency officials from a number of organizations who saw a draft of the report apparently agreed in large part with the findings. "They said that although FAA has made great strides toward changing its organizational culture [the report] is correct in pointing out deficiencies that may prevent FAA from accomplishing such change " GAO said.

One example of the problem is the apparent resistance by FAA employees to the concept of Integrated Product Teams. IPTs - a teaming of agency and industry executives to develop program strategy - have been a critical element of the FAA's procurement strategy for more than a year.

However according to an internal survey the IPT concept still lacks commitment from many employees the GAO report said. In fact as of June GAO found that only one of 13 IPTs had obtained approval of its team plan.

The study began in June 1995 at the behest of Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation who wanted to know whether the organizational culture contributed to the FAA's acquisition problems and how the FAA could improve acquisition management.Many changes took place during the last year culminating in April when Congress freed the FAA from most acquisition regulations and allowed the agency to create its own acquisition system.

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