Apr 22 2004


U.S. Senator Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala), Chairman of the Transportation, Treasury, and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired a hearing today to discuss the FY 2005 Budget Request for the Federal Aviation Administration. The scheduled witnesses were The Honorable Marion Blakey, Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration and Mr. Kenneth Mead, Inspector General, Department of Transportation. The following is Senator Shelby’s opening statement:

“Good Morning. Today we welcome Ms. Marion Blakey, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Mr. Ken Mead, the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation. I thank you both for being here this morning, and I look forward to our discussion.”

“Madam Administrator, your agency and the aviation industry are to be commended for operating the safest aviation system in the world. The three-year average for fatal commercial accidents is at an all-time low.”

“Obviously, no mission is more important for the FAA, and we should strive to improve upon this impressive safety record. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about what additional steps can be taken to improve the safety of our airways.”

“The FAA and the aviation industry face other challenges as well. Our current fiscal constraints require us to make choices between priorities and programs. We are at a critical juncture in the modernization and operation of our air traffic control system.”

“After almost a decade of vigorously growing budgets, we are faced this year with a budget request and a budget environment that would seem to indicate that tough choices will have to be made at the FAA.”

“Mr. Mead's testimony points out that the FAA has not been accustomed to operating within a budget constrained environment and that changing the organizational culture to accept budget constraints will be a challenge. Yet, when I look at the FAA budget request, I'm struck that the choices made in this budget request are remarkably similar to the choices of the past. The agency's operations account grows by 5 percent while funding for facilities and new air traffic control equipment is squeezed.”

“When other Federal agencies are facing 1.5 percent growth, I find it astonishing that a request for 5 percent growth is viewed as constrained.”

“Madam Administrator, you are to be commended for your commitment to slow the growth rate in the FAA's operational costs and your efforts at personnel reform. Clearly, we have a long way to go to bring the FAA's operational cost growth into line with the budget realities that we are likely to face for the next several years.”

“While you have all the legal authority to implement virtually any reform you can imagine, true personnel reform is elusive and remains exceptionally difficult at the FAA.”

“Nevertheless, your effort to link pay and performance is a step in the right direction. I note that you have had mixed success in tying pay raises to meeting performance goals.”

“It is ironic that the controllers did not participate in this linkage between raises and performance last year, even though one of the three organizational goals that FAA missed was Air Traffic Control operational errors.”

“Administrator Blakey, tying pay to performance is appropriate and overdue. While your action last year was only a modest step on the path toward linking pay and performance, I commend you for taking this necessary first step. I look forward to hearing from you what further steps you plan to take.”

“I also want to mention your efforts to restructure air traffic services and research and acquisition offices into a performance-based organization called the Air Traffic Organization (ATO). If this structure is properly implemented, it will instill personal accountability throughout FAA. On the other hand, if the ATO is implemented incorrectly, it will only add another layer of bureaucratic structure to an already dysfunctional organization.”

“I believe that we must improve FAA workforce productivity if we are to achieve any type of meaningful budgetary savings. A major contributor to improving productivity should come through making the right investments in modernization of the National Airspace System.”

“Yet, when I review the Facilities and Equipment budget, I am disappointed that this is where the cuts to the FAA budget have been taken.”

“I am concerned that the lion's share of the remaining Facilities and Equipment funding is poured into the same money pits that consume a disproportionate amount of our capital funding, including Airport Surveillance Radar (ASR-11), Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), and Advanced Technologies and Oceanic Procedures (ATOP).”

“Furthermore, I am increasingly concerned with the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) procurement to replace the aging Host system. The funding profile for ERAM is unrealistically aggressive, the program structure is unnecessarily complex, and the procurement strategy virtually guarantees substantial cost growth, schedule slippage, and questionable outcomes. I am interested in hearing from the Inspector General, his suggestions for minimizing the risk associated with this program.”

“We may be coming to the realization that the FAA is not capable of developing realistic cost estimates and schedules for major acquisition and development programs. We may also need to determine what steps to take to protect the taxpayer from what the Inspector General characterizes as historical "cost growth, schedule slips, and shortfalls in performance."”

“What concerns me most about that statement is the implication that cost growth, schedule slippages, and performance shortfalls are expected and seem to have become part of the FAA culture.”

“FAA's failure to cost-effectively modernize and redesign the National Airspace System is only matched in spending and failure by the Internal Revenue Systems’s (IRS) ongoing failed attempts to modernize its computer system.”

“The Bureau of Transportation Statistics recently published its monthly analysis of Airline On-Time Statistics and Causes of Flight Delays. The six-month analysis shows that almost half of flight delays are caused by insufficient infrastructure or failures of the national airspace system itself.”

“I believe this data underscores the primary issue facing the FAA in this budget request: are we making the right decisions to address constraints in the system, enhance safety, and improve efficiency; or are we failing to question our assumptions and merely following the same programs, procurements, and pitfalls that the FAA has slavishly adhered to in prior budgets?”

“It is an important question to ask, and an even more important question to honestly answer. I hope we can get some of those answers today.”