GAO: FAA must improve NextGen outreach

July 12, 2011

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says in a new report that the FAA should improve its efforts to harness resources of other agencies and the private sector as it moves ahead with development of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen).

A congressional oversight panel agreed with the conclusions published by the GAO in its July 8 report on FAA collaboration and technology transfer in programs for NextGen.

“Given current budget constraints, it is critical that FAA maximize resources available through interagency and private sector partners for development of NextGen,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-Fla.) in a news release. “The private sector nearly always performs better than government and can more effectively manage transition efforts like NextGen.”

House aviation subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri (R-Wis.) also commented on the report’s emphasis on efficient use of resources and the need for an expeditious FAA response.

“Congress has recognized the value, both in terms of innovation and efficient use of taxpayer resources, in FAA coordination with government and industry partners in the development of NextGen,” he said. “There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel, and there’s no time or money for that.”

Mica commented on FAA’s efforts—both successful and less than that—to work in partnership with agencies described by the GAO document. FAA efforts to make use of NASA research had shown promise, but efforts to work with the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security lacked coordination—a conclusion in which those two agencies concurred.

Demonstrating the need for improvements, Mica pointed to critical analysis by GAO of how the FAA uses a congressionally mandated Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) within the FAA.

“In fact, almost eight years after the JPDO was established, those agencies are yet to determine what research, technology, or expertise FAA could leverage to benefit NextGen,” the report said. The committee also focused on GAO’s assessment of FAA efforts to bring the private sector into the NextGen fold.

“The GAO notes that lack of flexibility in the FAA’s Acquisition Management System, as well as lack of clarity in the desired outcomes, complicates efforts to leverage private sector resources,” it said.

The GAO noted that responses from the DOD and DHS supported the GAO recommendations for better inter-agency cooperation. The Department of Transportation, however, “provided technical comments by email, which we incorporated as appropriate, but did not comment whether or not it agreed with our recommendation.”

Last November the GAO issued a report citing lack of clear goals and performance metrics having potential to lead to skyrocketing program costs. It said that the FAA had yet to “fully assess” the long-term benefits that would accrue to users who equipped their aircraft for operations under NextGen, posing a future risk to the system.