Final Approach: An Update on ATC Modernization
This is a virtual roundtable of the Subcommittee on Aviation.
Opening remarks, as prepared, of Subcommittee on Aviation Ranking Member Garret Graves (R-LA):
As you noted in your opening statement, where we are today is certainly not anywhere close to where it was anticipated when this program began. While I don’t often quote our distinguished full committee chairman, I think he has referred to this as ‘NeverGen’ a few times and unfortunately, I think that he is right. We’ve got to get this program back on track. The return on our investment has been incredibly unclear as numerous reports have indicated.
The FAA – the Federal Aviation Administration – has set expectations, they’ve made promises, and unfortunately, those promises have not been delivered upon. Now it would be easy to sit here and exclusively blame the FAA, but the reality is Congress has some culpability as well in regard to irregular funding streams, government shutdowns, and other challenges.
The bottom line is, and I think Chairman Larsen and I share this, is that we’ve got to get NextGen back on track. We’ve got to have a clear understanding of the objectives. We’ve got to ensure that we are implementing the best technology because it has certainly evolved an awful lot over the last 18 years in both the IT space as well as in the aviation space.
Both the GAO – the Government Accountability Office – and Department of Transportation Inspector General have done numerous reports back in 2012 before I came to Congress. The GAO said the three air traffic control programs with the largest cost increases, totaling more than $4 billion, are key to ATC modernization. The Inspector General in 2014 said underlying programmatic challenges such as a lack of an executable plan for coordinating intermodal programs, unresolved, complex technical and operational issues, and ineffective collaboration with industry effectively plagued the program.
In 2016, the Inspector General said eight of the FAA’s 15 ongoing major system acquisitions experienced a cumulative cost increase of $3.8 billion beyond the original estimates, with delays ranging from seven to 174 months – an average delay of 51 months.
Mr. Chairman as you well know – no one would stand for this in the private sector. We are the stewards of taxpayers’ dollars and we shouldn’t stand for it either.
As the Chairman noted in his opening statement and remarks, just a few months ago the Office of the Inspector General said that the FAA’s most recent business case model projects total NextGen benefits to to be over $100 billion less than the original estimate. And yes, Mr. Chairman was correct in stating the FAA believes NextGen still does demonstrate a positive cost to benefit ratio, but how in the world can we have a project or a program that has a $100 billion reduction in expected benefits over the 18-year period?
We’ve got to get this back on track. Modernizing our air transportation system is vitally important but it’s also critical that we get it right and learn from past missteps and mistakes, so we don’t repeat them moving forward. This was one of the reasons for the two congressionally-mandated NextGen reports that were in the FAA reauthorization law in 2018. FAA submitted its first annual report on the return on investment, but I’d like the FAA to update the subcommittee on the status of the second report that was actually due in April of 2019. The report is vitally important to inform decisions of the FAA and Congress in the coming years.
To all participants, I appreciate you joining the discussion today and look forward to hearing how you believe the FAA can best deliver the much-needed and long-promised benefits of the NextGen program.