FAA retools biz model
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- Jun 27, 2000
Flight delays caused by bad weather are usually beyond human control. But
when delays result from broken equipment in the Federal Aviation Administration's
air traffic control system, the FAA Logistics Center is ready to spring
Four years ago, the Oklahoma City-based logistics center decided to
modernize the way it operates to help keep the National Airspace System
running smoothly. The center supplies parts and repairs legacy systems located
at air traffic control facilities that are essential to keep the NAS operating.
The center employs experts in air traffic radar, communications, navigation
and landing, automation and logistics, including life cycle management,
inventory management and distribution.
In the past, the center received an annual budget for parts and services
and supplied FAA air traffic control centers with parts and services for
free. Now individual air traffic towers and centers have their own budgets
for parts and maintenance and can purchase directly from the logistics center.
"We realized if we were going to make improvements in our operations,
we needed a process to change or improve whatever wasn't working right,"
said Norman Bowles, director of the FAA Logistics Center.
Before overhauling its operations, the center obtained buy-in from its
employees. Groups of employees assessed how commercial firms manage business
processes and provide customer service. Input from the center's 600 employees
was used to create a balanced score card, one of the first in government,
to drive specific changes in employee activities and system investments.
"A lot of employees came back with views of how things could work and
were motivated to make changes," Bowles said. "We want to keep pace with
the modernization needs of the agency."
Eventually, the FAA plans to allow its customers to buy parts from the
logistics center or directly from commercial suppliers or resellers. That
plan would modernize the air traffic control system more quickly but threatens
the center's business, Bowles said. He decided to improve performance and
received the International Organization for Standardization 9000 quality
certification. The center also received the 2000 President's Quality Award
Merit Award as a National Partnership for Reinventing Government Reinvention
Other successful efforts that helped fuel the center's changes include
a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week customer service hotline built around an automated
tracking system; a bar coding system for the center's $400 million worth
of inventory in its central distribution center; and a financial automation
The center also automated its systems for customer complaints, distribution
center tracking and financials, Bowles said. The next step is to upgrade
the center's legacy systems.
The center's balanced score card is key to improving performance. "It's
a good way of quantifying what the organization's mission is and communicating
it in a way in which employees understand what they have to do to contribute,"
said Bob Welch, vice president for government operations at Acquisition
The reinvention effort at the FAA Logistics Center has transformed what
was a sleepy operation a few years ago into an exciting and dynamic organization,
said a senior official at the National Partnership for Reinventing Government.
Bowles wanted a tough assignment when he left NPR in the late 1990s, and
that's what he got, the official said.
"As a reinvention lab, we changed out priorities," Bowles said. "We
had to put our first dollar into business systems and the second dollar
into operations. That was hard because it was counterintuitive. We found
our performance increased so significantly that it offset whatever it was
we were investing."