GAO Removes FAA Air Traffic Control Modernization Program to Its 2009 “High-Risk” List

The U.S. Government Accountability Office today removed FAA air traffic control modernization program in its biennial update of its list of federal programs, policies, and operations that are at “high risk’ for waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement or in need of broad-based transformation.  See, High Risk Series:  An Update, issued January 22, 2009.

The GAO added FAA air traffic control modernization to the High-Risk List in 1995 due to cost overruns, schedule delays, and performance shortfalls in the FAA attempts to modernize its air traffic control system.  However, the GAO has found that the FAA is making progress in “addressing most of the root cause of its past problems.”  The GAO concluded that the FAA’s efforts “have yielded results, including deploying new systems across the country and incurring fewer cost overruns.”

That being said, the GAO warned the FAA that it “will be closely monitoring FAA’s efforts because the modernization program is still technically complex and costly, and FAA needs to place a high priority on efficient and effective management.”  Moreover, because FAA has now extended its modernization efforts to plan for a next-generation air transportation system that is to transform the current radar-based system to an aircraft-centered, satellite-based system, it must fall into the same pitfalls “that have plagued it in the past.”

One thing missing from the GAO report is any discussion about how resolving the labor issues with the Air Traffic Controllers would affect the modernization effort currently underway.  With the emphasis in the GAO Report on equipment and deployment of that upgraded equipment, one wonders about making sure that the humans operating that equipment are well-trained and well-paid.

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