Letters to the editor

Lockheed Airs Views

I would like to correct a few points covered in recent articles by FCW [including "FAA still sees STARS in its air traffic future," March 19, and "Taming technology," April 9]. The Lockheed Martin Common Automated Radar Terminal System is the most functionally advanced terminal air traffic control system. It was developed specifically for how air traffic control is performed in the United States and is a significant step in our 40-year evolution of the Federal Aviation Administration's terminal systems.

Common ARTS is being used today in New York City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. It is inconceivable to me that the FAA and the workforce at these facilities would accept a system that was deficient. The speed at which these displays were put into operation is a testament to the fidelity of the computer/human interface.

In my opinion, the statement that "Common ARTS is similar to STARS but does not include the human-factors changes sought by controllers" is misleading. Our system is operational today — used by controllers at 137 U.S. facilities.

According to the record, the computer/ human interface changes mandated for Raytheon Co.'s Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System were the result of a system design unsuitable for use in the United States. In total, 98 issues were identified in 1998, many of which are only now being resolved, and these issues have led to significant cost and schedule adjustments to the STARS program.

The ARTS Color Display (ACD), on the other hand, never suffered from those 98 issues. Although no interface is perfect, representatives of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Professional Airways Systems Specialists evaluated the ACD and agreed that it could be used "as is" with only minor modifications.

John Nikolai
Director, surveillance programs
Lockheed Martin Air Traffic Management

Let's be Fair

I read with interest Milt Zall's commentary, "Keep the rule of three" [FCW, March 26], which disagrees with the Merit Systems Protection Board's position that this hiring rule has outlived its usefulness.

Fairness is one of the reasons the MSPB recommended the end to this procedure in its December 1995 report, "The Rule of Three in Federal Hiring: Boon or Bane?" Regardless of the total number of well-qualified candidates, the selecting official can only choose from among the three individuals ranked at the top.

If we had some reasonable assurance that the three candidates are indeed better matched to the job than anyone listed after them, the "rule of three" would make sense. It is not uncommon for more than three outside applicants to be assigned the same top score. One method for breaking the tie is the use of a random number compared to the last digit of each applicant's Social Security number. Becoming one of the top three candidates referred then becomes a matter of chance and not merit!

Mr. Zall's unease over the potential elimination of the rule of three appears, in part, to be based on his belief that without the rule of three, "a selecting official could hire anyone referred to him or her as being "qualified.' " That's incorrect. The statutory merit systems principles would still require that selections be "solely on the basis of [the] relative ability, knowledge and skills" of each applicant.

As the MSPB also noted in its 1995 report, several alternatives to the rule of three can better achieve this goal. One is the use of category ratings in which a reasonable number of "best qualified" candidates are referred to the selecting official. This eliminates the need to arbitrarily eliminate highly rated candidates simply because there are more than three of them.

A second incorrect assumption is that only the existence of a rule of three would allow a nonselected candidate to appeal that decision. But the right of a nonselected candidate to challenge a decision is the same with or without a rule of three.

We agree with Mr. Zall when he states that "job applicants should have a chance at a job they're qualified for." Unfortunately, keeping the rule of three means that except for the top three candidates, some highly qualified applicants never even get an opportunity to be considered.

John Palguta
Director, policy and evaluation
Merit Systems Protection Board

Milt Zall replies: I appreciate the problems the writer cites in ranking applicants, but five years have passed since the MSPB issued its recommendations. The MSPB should come up with an improved mechanism for ranking employees and see that it's implemented.


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