To ensure that general aviation pilots are being served properly, the Transportation Department's inspector general will be auditing the contract awarded by the FAA last year to have Lockheed Martin Corp. take over flight service station (FSS) functions. The contract is one of the largest nondefense-related outsourcing efforts in the federal government.
The inspector general's office pointed out in a May 8 memo that it will be assessing whether the FAA has implemented effective plans and controls to transition FSS to contract operations and that operational needs of users continue to be met. The audit is planned to begin sometime this month. AOPA staff has already talked to officials from the inspector general's office to make sure they understand pilots' concerns and experiences with FSS operations. In the course of those conversations, AOPA has offered to survey its members - Lockheed's FSS customers - and report back to the inspector general's office in order to help them determine how well Lockheed is performing.
"The FAA and Lockheed Martin must remain accountable to the users," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "This early look at the program and the associated plans for changes is important to ensure pilots' needs are met, which is why AOPA is working closely with the inspector general of the Department of Transportation."
Lockheed Martin's flight services system is called "Flight Services 21" (FS21) and will be a fully integrated nationwide network that gives all flight service specialists and pilots access to flight plan information from a single, common database. AOPA had pushed hard for specific performance guarantees to improve safety and convenience for GA pilots.
The FAA has limited experience with outsourcing, and the unusually large contract deals with important safety issues. Under federal law, agencies are subject to routine monitoring when they award contracts to the private sector. It is even more important that there be an independent examination of the contract because of a revised estimate of the cost savings. Originally, the FAA said that outsourcing FSS functions would save the taxpayers some $2.2 billion over the life of the contract. Because of some unanticipated transition costs, the FAA now pegs the savings at $1.7 billion over 10 years.
In February 2005, the FAA awarded an initial five-year contract to Lockheed Martin with an option for a five-year extension. The company will be consolidating 58 flight service stations - excluding three in Alaska - into 20 facilities. The move toward outsourcing was triggered by escalating costs associated with the old FSS system, the FAA's inability to effectively modernize the FSS computer system, and widespread inefficiencies.
Updated: May 18, 2006, 1:03 p.m. EDT