DOT facing familiar criticism

The General Accounting Office's latest recommendations to the TransportationDepartment on minimizing the risk of waste, abuse and fraud restates problemsincluding air traffic control modernization and financial management thathave been the source of past criticism.

GAO recognized that DOT and the FAA have made progress in several areas,such as computer security and upgrading financial management systems, butalso noted DOT has a long way to go before those issues will be removedfrom the high-risk list.

"FAA and the U.S. Coast Guard are undertaking costly, long-term programsto modernize and replace aging equipment," the GAO wrote in its Performanceand Accountability Series report Jan. 17. "Over the past 19 years, FAA'smultibillion-dollar [air traffic control] modernization program has experiencedcost overruns, delays and performance shortfalls of large proportions."

The FAA's ATC modernization program has been on the high-risk list since1995. The Coast Guard's Deepwater Capability Replacement Program to replaceand modernize its aging fleet also is the subject of concerns about programand acquisition management.

GAO in past years has pinpointed causes of the persistent problems inthe FAA's ATC modernization, such as immature software acquisition capabilities;the lack of a complete and enforced systems architecture; the lack of aneffective CIO management structure; and an organizational culture that impairedthe acquisition process.

While the FAA has resolved most of those issues, the GAO report saidthe agency still fails to require all systems to achieve a minimum levelof software process maturity before being funded and the CIO faces a continuingchallenge in ensuring that initiatives are implemented and enforced.

Software development and the cultural stovepipes in the form of integratedproduct teams have been the source of cost and schedule overruns on programssuch as the Wide Area Augmentation System, which has received repeated attentionfrom GAO.

FAA officials addressed these issues at a conference addressing fundingand modernization issues Jan. 17.

Steve Zaidman, FAA associate administrator for research and acquisitions,said many of the human factor issues in designing new ATC systems have beenresolved, but it still takes many years to test and certify those systemsfor use in air traffic management.

The report also noted that until the FAA has financial management systemsand related procedures and controls that provide reliable information, theagency will continue to be at risk for abuse and mismanagement.

The FAA plans to have a true cost accounting system operational in 2002and will be better able to understand the real costs of air traffic controland how the costs of capital developments are absorbed in the operationsbudget once the new systems are commissioned, said Donna McLean, FAA assistantadministrator for financial services and chief financial officer.

DOT also is in the process of implementing a new commercial financialmanagement system and has already transitioned the Federal Railroad Administrationand Federal Transit Administration.

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