FAA telecom turbulence

Overseeing the Federal Aviation Administration's telecommunications has been a tough job so far, says the man in charge of it.

"We simply weren't good enough to stay on top" of technological changes, said Steve Dash, who manages the FAA's multibillion-dollar Telecommunications Infrastructure program. Until that is completed, "the bottom line is we don't have enough tricks in our bag to meet our customer demands."

At a TelecomHUB conference panel, Dash outlined the challenges of performance-based contracting. The FAA is in its second year of a 15-year contract with Harris Corp. Agency officials aim to integrate aging systems and expand services, ultimately encompassing more than 5,000 facilities nationwide.

Among other things, Dash said:

With a rapidly growing demand for services, FAA officials are working to find ways to supply that need. After the original modeling five years ago, monthly traffic was half a terabyte. Now, it's approaching 40 terabytes per month.

Marketplace demands and changes in the regulatory environment fuel volatility. "We want to be able to leverage those dynamics in our pricing," Dash said.

The agency was forced to adapt to what he called a "contractual roller coaster," an ongoing state of transitions and disrupted operations.

However, the program is making strides, according to Suzanne Stoehr, FAA telecommunications specialist.

"Performance-based contracting is new for the telecom division and strategically, it€s going well," Stoehr said. "We are well into implementation and having a performance-based contract is in line with the FAA€s new air traffic organization."

Ageny officials firmly believe that FTI is the right thing to do, she said.

"It€s a business model that does have challenges because of overall FAA cultural issues, but we€re working our way through those challenges to, in the end, achieve operational cost savings for the FAA," Stoehr said.

Dash said one of his key objectives is to make the challenges as transparent as possible, so that they can be addressed.

"When I sold the program to our management, one of the principles was that we'll make this performance-based contract using service level agreements," he said. "I pulled my team together and we all looked at one another and, frankly, didn't know what any of that meant. I just sold something that I didn't really understand."

"As it turns out it, it was a good idea, and I just didn't know it," said Dash, manager of the FAA Telecommunications Management Division.

FAA officials expect the telecom program to be completed by fiscal year 2007.

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