Friday, May 11, 2007
Senators Criticize FAA Accounting, Management of Modernization Projects
By Kathleen Hunter
Congressional Quarterly Today
Senate appropriators are criticizing the Federal Aviation Administration for employing what lawmakers described as an accounting gimmick to hide problems with its air traffic control modernization effort. Washington Democrat Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee that funds transportation, on Thursday questioned whether it was “appropriate or accurate” for FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey “to claim that the overwhelming majority of FAA’s capital projects are progressing along just fine” when many are behind schedule or over budget. Murray referred to a speech last month in which Blakey said 97 percent of the FAA’s capital projects were on time and on budget at the end of fiscal 2006 and lauded the “enormous management efficiencies” she said the agency has achieved in recent years.
Murray and Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, the panel’s ranking Republican, both said the FAA’s recent decision to “re-baseline” several major programs was contributing to a false sense that programs were meeting cost and schedule goals.
“Instead of shortfalls and delays, the programs for the most part now appear to be meeting all implementation and funding requirements, regardless of prior problems and other concerns,” Bond said, adding that the agency’s approach was like a “three-card monte game.”
The re-baselining process, which involves re-estimating the cost, time frame and overall benefits of a program, is applied to major procurements not meeting performance standards. Blakey said seven major FAA programs had been re-baselined since 2004.
Murray said she supported the decision to re-baseline the programs but considered it disingenuous when the FAA issues a higher cost estimate, later delivery date or weaker performance goal for a program “and then continues to proclaim proudly that the program “is ‘on time’ and ‘on budget.’ “
Blakey said only a fraction of the agency’s major programs had been re-baselined and said the agency has had “tremendous success” using the process to improve programs.
Calvin L. Scovel, the Transportation Department’s inspector general, cited several FAA programs — totaling $6 billion in capital investment costs — that still face problems, even though the FAA has reported lower cost-growth figures than it did before programs were re-baselined.
Murray vowed to exercise strict oversight of the FAA’s budget as the Bush administration lobbies for its proposal (HR 1356) to overhaul the agency’s current financing scheme and tie payments more closely to actual use of the air traffic control system.
Bipartisan leaders of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and its Aviation panel last week introduced an FAA reauthorization bill (S 1300) that ignored the White House proposal but instead sought to build on the current mix of excise and fuel taxes, and general fund contributions.
The agency’s current authorization (PL 108-176) expires Sept. 30.