GAO: FAA needs to hit acquisition performance goals

The Federal Aviation Administration is doing a better job of keeping to system acquisition budget and schedules, but the agency needs to make a successful transition to its Next Generation Air Transportation (NextGen) system, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

In particular, FAA, which will acquire $14 billion worth of new systems between fiscal 2007 and 2011 to continue operating the current air traffic control system, must adhere more closely to criteria that measure budget and schedule performance, the report states.

FAA has repeatedly had difficulty meeting budget, schedule and performance targets for system acquisitions to modernize the National Airspace System. NextGen will present an even greater challenge. The program involves acquiring numerous systems to support precision satellite navigation; digital, networked communications; integrated weather information; layered, adaptive security and more. It will be critical for FAA to keep these acquisitions within budget and on schedule, GAO said in its report released Dec. 18.

Missing those budget and schedule targets could result in significant budget increases to maintain existing systems and delays in increasing the efficiency of the nation’s airspace, GAO said. FAA has set goals in fiscal 2008 to have 90 percent of major system acquisition investments on schedule and within 10 percent annual budget, and maintaining those performance targets through 2012.

FAA’s Air Traffic Organization reported that from 2004 through 2006 it substantially exceeded its on-budget and on-schedule performance goals and showed nearly steady improvement. However, when performance is measured against original baselines instead of annual budgets or milestones, acquisition performance was lower than FAA reported, GAO found.

The GAO did find a general trend of improvement between 2003 and 2006. Even when measured against original baselines, ATO would have met its budget goals in 2004 through 2006. However, ATO would have met its schedule goals only in 2005.

ATO's approach of reporting on performance based on the latest goals, rather than the original baseline, could complicate oversight of the NextGen program.

“Consequently, budget increases and delays that could impact the capacity, efficiency and safety benefits of NextGen may not be apparent to Congress or aviation stakeholders,” said Gerald Dillingham, director of GAO’s physical infrastructure issues, in the report.

GAO recommends a more transparent process of reporting acquisition performance, with ATO providing original budget and schedule baselines for each program and explaining the rationale for any changes to its goals. ATO should also report the potential effects that budget or schedule slippages could have on the transition to NextGen, the report states.

In response, FAA said it was considering some changes to its performance measurement and reporting process for systems acquisitions.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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