Reinvention can't prevent WAAS woes

Last week's revelation that the Federal Aviation Administration's main satellite-based navigation program will cost nearly $350 million more than originally anticipated was hardly a bombshell [FCW Aug. 18]. It is certainly not the first government program or for that matter the first FAA program to go over budget.

The history of the Wide-Area Augmentation System included plenty of indication of trouble ahead. Citing cost overruns up to $100 million and schedule delays the FAA canceled the first WAAS contract. In doing so FAA administrator David Hinson had some strong words for the WAAS contractor and presumably all others interested in doing business with the agency saying the FAA no longer had a "tolerance for ineptitude."

Many thought the agency's get-tough policy with WAAS was an outstanding example of the brave new era in procurement reform fostered by Office of Federal Procurement Policy administrator Steven Kelman. Having become one of the first agencies freed from traditional procurement rules the FAA was flexing its newly found Acquisition Management System muscle.

But 15 months later the FAA finds itself with a new contractor and $350 million in unanticipated development costs.

The rules have changed but the result seems hauntingly familiar. Some claim the culture and turf issues at the FAA are responsible. Others say all large software-development projects are doomed. Certainly one lesson is that there is a long way to go between reforming rules and achieving real change. The FAA is an obvious but not singular reminder that reinventing the acquisition culture does not happen overnight.

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