A Call to Reform Air Traffic Control


Recently Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) was joined by five other taxpayer watchdog organizations in sending a letter to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta, urging him to improve internal management at the agency related to the Air Traffic Control Optimum Training Solution (ATCOTS) program, which has overrun its budget by $89 million over the past four years. By implementing the recommendations made by the FAA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) in 2010, the FAA could make significant strides in improving overall ATCOTS oversight and management. Signatories to the letter are: CAGW President Tom Schatz, National Taxpayers Union President Pete Sepp, Taxpayers Protection Alliance President David Williams, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, and Taxpayers for Common Sense President Ryan Alexander. The letter reads as  follows:

“The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will soon decide whether to rebid the contract for the troubled Air Traffic Controller Optimum Training Solution (ATCOTS) program, which began in 2009. Credible sources including the Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) as well as current and former members of Congress agree that the problems related to the program are primarily attributable to poor management and oversight at the FAA. Regardless of whether the incumbent contractor or a new contractor is chosen to move forward on ATCOTS, tax dollars will continue to be wasted until the FAA’s internal management problems are resolved. On behalf of the millions of members of our respective organizations, we urge you to follow the IG’s recommendation that ‘to avoid repeating problems with ATCOTS, FAA will need to ensure that it completes an [integrated baseline review] and clearly defines its training requirements before awarding the new  contract.’

“According to a September 30, 2010 OIG report, ‘In designing and executing the ATCOTS program, FAA did not fully 1) mitigate staffing and cost issues identified during acquisition planning, (2) adequately define how many controllers would need training, or (3) initially implement adequate controls to oversee contractor services or ensure that fees paid for performance were justified. As a result, FAA now faces significant challenges in achieving the program’s  goals.’

“Nearly three and a half years after the 2010 report, at a January 14, 2014 hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on Contracting and Oversight, DOT Assistant IG for Acquisition and Procurement Audits Mary Kay Langan-Feirson delivered an update on the progress, or lack thereof, made by the FAA. Ms. Langan-Feirson stated that, ‘Since our September 2010 report, FAA has taken some steps to better assess training needs, such as use of enhanced program management tools to better prioritize where training is needed. However, FAA has yet to clearly define its controller training requirements or determine the number of controller training hours needed – recommendations we made in 2010. Without clearly defined training requirements, FAA cannot develop realistic estimates of its controller training costs or hold the contractor accountable for desired  outcomes.

“FAA’s lack of oversight resulted in four consecutive years of cost overruns totaling $89 million. Furthermore, the agency expended its full five-year budget in the span of four years. Since these excessive expenditures were primarily caused by internal mismanagement, creating a new training program would likely result in the outlay of significant additional taxpayer funds with no guarantee of  success.

“At a time when the FAA plans to hire more than 11,700 air traffic controllers through fiscal year 2021 to deal with an impending shortage of controllers, FAA should immediately solve the internal problems that afflict the agency. Otherwise, neither the incumbent contractor nor a new contractor will continue to be able to fulfill the objectives of the ATCOTS  program.”

Citizens Against Government Waste is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, mismanagement and abuse in  government.

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