Senators triple FAA software program's funds

Transportation Department

Senators recently approved a 215 percent budget increase for a major software acquisition program of the Federal Aviation Administration even though an inspector general described the project as a high-risk investment.

The Senate's version of the fiscal 2004 Transportation, Treasury and General Government Appropriations bill includes $223.5 million for the FAA's En Route Automation Program (ERAM). That's more than triple the $71 million spent on the project in fiscal 2003.

ERAM is designed to replace hardware and software systems that have monitored high-altitude aircraft through the National Airspace System for more than 30 years. Scheduled for deployment in 27 facilities by 2010, ERAM has an estimated total cost of $2.1 billion.

The Transportation Department's inspector general began auditing ERAM in mid-September and had already issued a Sept. 10 report that criticized the FAA's major modernization programs, including ERAM, for high costs and developmental delays.

Senators approved the ERAM increase despite the Appropriations Committee's disappointment that the FAA's budget request "provides insufficient details for a program of this importance and magnitude."

As a condition of funding, the committee requested that the agency include a detailed explanation of specific ERAM tasks and the associated costs for each within the fiscal 2005 budget.

In its report, the committee pointed out "the potential for dramatic cost escalation if the program is not managed effectively" and cited the FAA's "traditional difficulty with complex, software-related acquisition programs."

ERAM is one of several high-cost FAA projects intended to modernize the air traffic control system. They include the Wide Area Augmentation System, the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System and the Next-Generation Air/Ground Communication program.

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