America's Air Traffic Control System Is a Disaster
The FAA just got a performance review, and it's not pretty. A new report from the Department of Transportation found that the agency has been failing for years in its efforts to reform and improve operations.
"These efforts have not slowed the Agency’s escalating operating costs or improved its productivity. In fact, FAA’s total budget, operations account, and total personnel compensation and benefits costs doubled while air traffic facility productivity declined," the DOT's Office of the Inspector General said in the new audit report. Among other things, the department calls out the FAA's corporate culture in the report, calling it "ingrained" and "resistant to change."
Even the relatively bright spots in the FAA's performance come under criticism. The report mentioned the agency's NextGen program, a huge project that will switch the country's air traffic control from radar to satellites and GPS. The audit report gives a thumbs-up to progress that the rollout has facilitated, but added that there was plenty of room for improvement, blaming "overambitious plans, unresolved requirements, software development problems, ineffective contract management, and unreliable cost and schedule estimates" for contributing to bloated budgets and sluggish schedules.
Between 1996 and 2012, the FAA has been shelling out more money — its budget climbed 95% to $15.9 billion — for operations, compensation and other expenses, but productivity has actually gotten worse. Bloomberg noted that the sharply worded report will likely revive the debate about whether or not the United States should shift air traffic control management from the FAA to a semi-private, nonprofit corporation like countries such as Canada and the U.K. have.