Congress and OIG need to get out of FAA punching back mode to IDEATE

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Congress to Pass Comprehensive FAA Reauthorization Bill

Inspector general’s report says the FAA has bungled a $36 billion project

Congressional FAA Reauthorization and Corporatiztion

Multiple OIG ripped FAA

AIRR off the agenda; Shuster and LoBiondo to retire

Use expertise developed to IDEATE


Chairman Shuster should be commended; he opened the issue of FAA Reauthorization way back in 2014 in an effort to avoid the 22 continuing resolutions that occurred the last time that Congress considered this important authorizing legislation. Following good bipartisan etiquette (following his Father’s successful practice) , the Chairman and Aviation Subcommittee LoBiondo held  a number of hearings over the past 3 ½ years.


While there was hardly industry-wide consensus behind it, privatization was identified as the “cure” for the “problems” and the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act the 21st Century AIRR Act was introduced. The premise of this bill was that private industry would provide better leadership in the management of the Air Traffic Control Organization, in general, and NextGen, specifically. To develop a record that would support AIRR, the Committee asked the US Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General  to assess almost every aspect of ATO’s operations and every dollar spent on the ATC modernization.

The OIG’s mission is to “provide the Secretary and Congress with independent and objective reviews of the efficiency and effectiveness of DOT operations and programs and to detect and prevent fraud, waste, and abuse. OIG’s staff works to support DOT’s priorities of transportation safety and effective program delivery and performance.” Its critical reports and files on the subject probably fill several gigabytes of memory.

As testimony to the value of their reviews, the FAA accepted many of their recommendations. The tone and the words chosen were unusually harsh. (For example, compare the adjectives used in the titles of their reports with the wording of the Government Accountability Office’s similar analyses. Frequently, the criticisms were similar in determinations, but the expressions thereof vary in the recipient’s likely reception of the advice. See standard performance feedback language resources versus terms most likely to catch the media’s attention.)

Now, Rep. Shuster and Rep. LoBiondo have announced that they will not seek reelection. The T&I Chairman has also conceded that he goes not have enough voted to pass AIRR and is now working on a clean Reauthorization bill. “I intend to work with [Sen. John Thune] and move forward with a reauthorization bill to provide long-term stability for the FAA,” was the quote in the Washington Post. 

Those CHANGES create an opportunity to IDEATE. These of being a punching bag has harmed the FAA’s internal morale. So, it may be appropriate to try a different tact:

  1. Convert the OIG post hoc analysis to positive, proactive role—the OIG has examined the FAA to a granular level and knows what went wrong. Instead of waiting until the next NextGen decision is made, presumably wrong, why not invite them to participate in program reviews BEFORE the final decision. They could help save dollars before an error is made. Instead of omniscience, they could exhibit prescience?
  2. Not corporatization, but long term funding from private sector—The expert witnesses expounded on how a “federally-chartered, not-for-profit corporation called the ATC Corporation” would allow NextGen to obtain the long term commitments from the bond market to successfully complete this project. The same intuitions may be interested in funding in this capital infrastructure backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government. There are legislative challenges to multiple years of appropriations, but the years of Shuster/LoBiondo hearings on this issue should have prepared Congress to find solutions.

No one can doubt the sincerity of the Members, staffs and witnesses (OIG) in seeking a new solution to the implementation of NextGen. Rather than walk away smarting from the wounds felt by both sides of the debate, it is time to review what we have learned and ideate.



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