FAA IT failure puts shadow on Harris contract

Project had few reported problems until a router failure grounded air traffic across the country

Harris Corp.’s work on the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI) contract had been relatively trouble free until Thursday's outage, a  spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration said today. 

But when a router failed in Salt Lake City, it brought down other FAA systems, causing flight delays and cancellations across the United States. 

“The last couple years there haven’t been any issues with the contract,” said FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere. “There were only a few issues early on when it was being rolled out, but that is typical of any large project.”

Harris won the $3.5 billion FTI contract in 2002. The purpose was the consolidate and centrally manage the large number of leased telephone lines that the FAA was using to move voice, video and data around the country. The contract has a 10-year base period and five option years.

The Transportation Department’s inspector general issued reports in 2006, and again in 2008, that cited some management problems with the contract and delays in the transition from the leased lines to the FTI system.

In the 2008 report. the IG said “significant progress” had been made, but that the FAA needed to manage shifting service requirements, monitor cost savings and mitigate risks to air traffic operations if it expected to meet FTI’s goals.

In the aftermath of the Nov. 19 problems, FAA and Harris officials will be meeting to discuss issues with the project. Spitaliere said she didn’t have details on how many meetings or specifics to be discussed.

“We’ll be continually working together to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she said.

Harris officials declined to comment beyond a prepared statement that the company is working with the FAA to evaluate the interruption to prevent similar outages. “The FTI network has proven to be one of the most reliable and secure communications networks operating within the civilian government,” Harris said.

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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