House panel slams FAA management culture

The House Appropriations Committee this month blasted the Federal Aviation Administration for its unwillingness to change its organizational culture which is resistant to change and is thus negatively affecting its programs.

At a markup of the Transportation Department appropriations bill the members charged that the lack of long-term leadership at the FAA had created a bureaucratic organization.

Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) the ranking minority member said he has never seen an agency "less responsive to abandon the status quo" than the FAA. "Everyone always says `Don't worry we're getting a new administrator.' I've had a belly full of one of the last" vestiges of bureaucracy in this town.

Committee members according to the report language accompanying the Transportation appropriations bill are concerned over a lack of "stable long-term leadership at the FAA and as a result the development of an agency culture which is resistant to change defensive and turf-conscious."

The report also noted "The FAA does not have a funding crisis." It has "a crisis of management and leadership. Over many years an organizational culture has developed that is secretive rather than open self-interested rather than public spirited and highly resistant to change."

Reports from the General Accounting Office and the Inspector General during the past year illustrated how cultural issues were causing some of the agency's problems and negatively affecting some of its programs the committee pointed out.

The FAA declined to comment on the report.

Recently the FAA nominated Jane Garvey as its new administrator and George Donohue deputy administrator. According to the committee report it is "imperative" that the new FAA administrator place a "high priority on gaining effective control of the agency and restoring morale openness and overall credibility to the Congress and the traveling public."

Garvey's nomination is good news and a step in the right direction for the agency said Gerald Dillingham associate director of transportation issues at GAO. Congress also lengthened the term of the FAA administrator to five years which should make the position more stable he added.

A Long Road Ahead

But while the FAA has taken some steps to improve its culture including development of a new acquisition system which frees the FAA from most federal acquisition rules the agency's bureaucratic culture is still a significant issue Dillingham said. For the new acquisition system to work he said FAA officials must pay close attention to the "organizational culture" of the agency.

Most of what GAO has cited is a need to change the acquisition of equipment to modernize the Air Traffic Management system.

"When charged with acquiring and putting out major systems in the field there was some element of culture we found to be a problem [such as] lack of leadership and no one wanting to pass bad news up the line " Dillingham said. In addition the committee pointed out in its report that while the FAA expected to save 20 percent of the cost of acquisitions because of its new flexibility it has not yet seen the savings.

"The committee did not approve acquisition reform in order to achieve the status quo " the report said. "In the future the FAA is expected to show savings from the acquisition reform."

In other committee highlights the bill prohibits funds to be used in fiscal 1998 for the free-flight concept demonstration scheduled to take place in 2000. This concept lets pilots choose their own route speed and altitude rather than relying solely on air-traffic controllers.

The committee said it is not convinced the FAA is ready for this expensive and ambitious demonstration which is estimated to cost $400 million to $1 billion.

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