FAA NextGen Criticized For Poor Performance Tracking

A General Accountability Office report has found the FAA project to overhaul the U.S. air-traffic control system lacks performance metrics and outcome-based goals.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has received more criticism over its handling of an ambitious project to overhaul the U.S. air-traffic control system.

A new report by the General Accountability Office (GAO) found the FAA is not doing an adequate job of measuring NextGen against the goals the system is meant to achieve. Specifically, the FAA lacks performance metrics in its acquisition of software and hardware, outcome-based goals and funding for NextGen, according to the report.

NextGen aims to use technology to rebuild the stressed and outdated air-traffic control system in the United States by 2025. The project has been plagued by poor leadership and limited funding, however, and FAA officials recently told Congress they are not sure if it will meet its deadline.

Now the GAO is criticizing another aspect of the project -- performance metrics. Some of the FAA's problem in this area lies with its Earned Value Management (EVM) measurements that monitor the progress of its programs for acquiring software and hardware, according to the report.

The GAO has previously criticized the FAA's implementation of EVM for generating inaccurate reports. This has left the agency unable to report on how a delay in one acquisition program for NextGen will affect others within it, according to the report.

It also affects the project's funding, according to the GAO. If one aspect of the project is off budget, the FAA has no accurate measuring stick in place to assess how that will affect other aspects of the project. This can create problems across the entire project.

On the plus side for the FAA, the agency is working with the Department of Transportation to implement GAO recommendations for improving EVM measurements, according to the report.

Another problem hindering NextGen is that the FAA has not mapped out outcome-based performance metrics or goals to track the impact of some of the expected benefits of the system, such as reducing airplane noise and emissions, according to the report.

Plans the agency had to develop performance metrics with the overall transportation industry also have hit a snag, with no timeline or action plan for doing so, according to the GAO. Without metrics or a timeline in place, the FAA won't be able to clearly assess if the project not only will achieve its desired goals or be completed within its scheduled timeframe.

To help remedy some of the issues the report raises, the GAO is recommending the Secretary of Transportation direct the FAA to develop a timeline and plan of action to develop outcome-based performance metrics and goals for NextGen as a whole.

The agency should also do the same for specific product portfolios, programs and capabilities within the system, according to the report.

Once developed, the appropriate congressional oversight committees should review the metrics and goals for approval before they are implemented.