FAA retools biz model

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

into action.

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

Laboratory.

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

system.

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

Solutions Inc.

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."

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