oversight

Aviation Safety: Opportunities Exist for FAA to Refine the Controller Staffing Process

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-04-09.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                 United States General Accounting Office

GAO              Report to Congressional Requesters




April 1997
                 AVIATION SAFETY
                 Opportunities Exist for
                 FAA to Refine the
                 Controller Staffing
                 Process




GAO/RCED-97-84
      United States
GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      Resources, Community, and
      Economic Development Division

      B-271807

      April 9, 1997

      The Honorable Frank Wolf
      Chairman
      The Honorable Martin Olav Sabo
      Ranking Minority Member
      Subcommittee on Transportation
        and Related Agencies
      Committee on Appropriations
      House of Representatives

      The Honorable James L. Oberstar
      Ranking Minority Member,
        Committee on Transportation
        and Infrastructure
      House of Representatives

      In response to your request, this report discusses the results of our review of the Federal
      Aviation Administration’s (FAA) efforts to address short- and long-term controller staffing needs.
      The report contains recommendations to the Secretary of Transportation aimed at enhancing
      FAA’s ability to forecast and meet these needs.


      As arranged with your offices, unless you announce its contents earlier, we plan no further
      distribution of this report until 7 days after the date of this letter. At that time, we will send
      copies of the report to the Secretary of Transportation; the Administrator of the FAA; other
      appropriate congressional committees; the Director of the Office of Management and Budget;
      and other interested parties. We will also make copies available to others on request.

      If you or your staff have any questions, I can be reached at (202) 512-2834. Major contributors to
      this report are listed in appendix III.




      John H. Anderson, Jr.
      Director, Transportation Issues
Executive Summary


             The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for managing the
Purpose      nation’s air transportation system so more than 18,000 aircraft can
             annually carry 500 million passengers safely and on schedule. Because of
             significant hiring in the early 1980s to replace strikers who had been fired,
             many of FAA’s more than 17,000 air traffic controllers may become eligible
             to retire within the next decade, raising concerns that FAA could be left
             with too few fully trained controllers.

             The Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on
             Transportation, House Committee on Appropriations, and the Ranking
             Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
             asked GAO to (1) identify the key variables FAA uses to project future
             controller staffing needs and evaluate their reasonableness; (2) determine
             whether the agency has identified a sufficient number of controller
             candidates to satisfy its short- and long-term staffing needs and evaluate
             FAA’s plans to train new controllers; and (3) identify impediments that
             hinder FAA from staffing air traffic control (ATC) facilities at specified
             levels.


             In 1981, thousands of air traffic controllers who participated in a
Background   nationwide strike were fired and barred by a presidential directive from
             reemployment with FAA as air traffic controllers. As a result of the strike,
             FAA hired thousands of new controllers to rebuild its controller workforce.
             In 1995, following the repeal of the directive, FAA began rehiring some of
             the fired controllers.

             FAA uses staffing standards forecast models to determine the staffing
             needs for controllers and to formulate its annual staffing and budget
             requests. The models forecast needs using (1) periodic industrial
             engineering studies that measure the amount of time it takes a controller
             to perform necessary work tasks; (2) estimates of growth in air traffic; and
             (3) estimates of attrition among controllers. The models are also used to
             determine the specified level of controllers FAA needs to operate its ATC
             facilities.

             Air traffic controller candidates currently receive training from several
             sources. Most candidates with no prior controller experience currently
             receive initial training at one of four post-secondary educational
             institutions that participate in FAA’s collegiate training initiative program or




             Page 2                     GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
                   Executive Summary




                   at the Mid-America Aviation Resource Consortium.1 In addition, other
                   candidates receive training as part of FAA’s cooperative education
                   program, which allows students to receive controller training while
                   completing academic requirements toward a college degree. Once hired by
                   FAA, these candidates receive an average of 2 to 4 years of on-the-job
                   training at ATC facilities before being fully certified as controllers.
                   Candidates with prior experience, such as former FAA or Department of
                   Defense controllers, receive refresher training at the FAA Academy in
                   Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, as well as shorter on-the-job training.


                   FAA uses two key variables—estimates of air traffic growth and controller
Results in Brief   attrition—to project future controller staffing needs. While FAA’s estimates
                   of air traffic growth are reasonable, GAO’s analysis indicated that FAA could
                   be overstating retirements, which account for most controller attrition, for
                   fiscal years 1999 through 2002. Rather than using actual information on
                   controllers’ age and service time to project future retirements, FAA bases
                   its estimates on assumptions about when controllers will be eligible to
                   retire.

                   FAA has identified a sufficient number of controller candidates to meet its
                   short-term staffing needs in fiscal years 1997 and 1998. However, beyond
                   fiscal year 1998, it is uncertain whether current sources can provide the
                   controller candidates FAA will need to meet its hiring goals for fiscal years
                   1999 through 2002. The majority of available candidates are controllers
                   who were fired in 1981 and who FAA officials believe could be eligible to
                   retire within a few years of reemployment. However, FAA has not
                   conducted any analysis to support this position. To help meet its long-term
                   hiring goals, FAA is expanding its collegiate program to include more
                   schools and has reactivated the cooperative education program.

                   Beginning in fiscal year 1998, FAA will require that all new controllers
                   receive some training at its Academy. FAA believes that this will reduce
                   on-the-job training time and costs. This revision, however, could increase
                   the federal costs of initial controller training because FAA will pay a
                   portion of training expenses currently being paid by participants in the
                   collegiate program.

                   FAA officials identified several principal impediments that hinder their
                   ability to staff ATC facilities at specified levels. The first is FAA

                   1
                    The Mid-America Aviation Resource Consortium is a federally funded program under which students
                   receive intensive air traffic controller training. The Congress established the program in 1989 to
                   supplement FAA’s controller training program.



                   Page 3                            GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
                          Executive Summary




                          headquarters’ practice of generally not providing funds to relocate
                          controllers until the end of the fiscal year, which causes delayed controller
                          moves and continued staffing imbalances. The second impediment is the
                          limited ability of regional officials to recruit controller candidates locally
                          to fill vacancies at ATC facilities. In addition, FAA regional officials also
                          believe that limited hiring of new controllers in recent years has hindered
                          their ability to fill vacancies. Partly due to these impediments, as of
                          April 1996 about 53 percent of ATC facilities were not staffed at levels
                          specified by FAA’s staffing standards. Specifically, these facilities were
                          either more than 10 percent over or more than 10 percent under specified
                          levels. Although FAA officials believe certain circumstances justify
                          deviations from the staffing standards, there are facilities where staffing
                          differences are not justified. FAA has implemented several initiatives to
                          improve its ability to staff the facilities at specified levels. It is too early,
                          however, to determine the effectiveness of these initiatives.



Principal Findings

FAA Could Improve Its     The two key variables that FAA uses to project controller staffing needs are
Forecasts of Controller   estimates of future air traffic growth and future controller attrition. FAA’s
Staffing Needs by Using   projections of air traffic growth have been reasonable. In fiscal years 1991
                          through 1995, FAA’s estimates of the amount of air traffic to be handled by
Available Data            certain facilities differed by between 0.6 and 7.4 percent from the actual
                          levels. Since the projections are designed to be accurate within 10 percent,
                          FAA officials believe that these estimates are accurate enough for its
                          purposes.

                          GAO could not evaluate the reasonableness of FAA’s projections for
                          controller attrition because FAA does not maintain previous projections
                          that GAO could compare to actual attrition levels. However, in examining
                          the process FAA uses to estimate attrition, GAO found that FAA’s projections
                          of retirements—which account for most attrition—may be overstated. FAA
                          bases its projections on assumptions they make about when controllers
                          will be eligible to retire rather than using available data on actual
                          retirement eligibility. GAO found that many controllers may not qualify for
                          retirement as early as FAA assumes. In addition, FAA assumes that the same
                          percentage of controllers will retire in the future as in the past but does
                          not have a basis for this making this assumption.




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                            Executive Summary




                            While definitively predicting how many controllers will retire in any year is
                            nearly impossible, FAA could improve its attrition estimates by using actual
                            information on the age and service time of recent retirees and current
                            controllers. Using data on actual retirements from fiscal years 1992
                            through 1996, GAO found that, on average, controllers retired when they
                            had about 31 years of federal service and were about 56 years old.
                            Combining these data with similar data on current controllers, GAO
                            estimated that retirements could be significantly lower than FAA projects
                            for fiscal years 1999 through 2002. For example, while FAA projects that
                            510 controllers will retire in fiscal year 2002, data on recent retirees
                            indicate that the number of retirees in fiscal year 2002 could range from
                            211 to 273 controllers.

                            Because it takes about 3 years to fully train a new controller, if actual
                            retirements differ significantly from FAA’s estimates, it could take FAA
                            several years to adjust its hiring to reflect actual retirements. If FAA
                            overestimates the number of future retirees, it would have too many
                            controllers for several years, resulting in increased costs. If FAA
                            underestimates the number of retirees, it could be several years before
                            fully trained controllers are available, which could result in an increase in
                            overtime for the remaining controllers and, in extreme cases, flight delays
                            due to decreased levels of FAA operations.


Short-Term Staffing Needs   A sufficient number of candidates are available from various sources to
Can Be Met, but             meet FAA’s plans to hire 1,300 new controllers in the short term, fiscal
Uncertainty Exists About    years 1997 and 1998, including former FAA and Department of Defense
                            controllers as well as graduates from the collegiate program and the
FAA’s Ability to Meet       Mid-America Aviation Resource Consortium.
Long-Term Needs
                            In the long term, however, it is uncertain whether current sources can
                            provide the new controllers FAA plans to hire during fiscal years 1999
                            through 2002. The majority of available candidates are controllers who
                            were fired from FAA during the 1981 controller strike. FAA officials believe
                            that these controllers may only fill staffing needs in the short term because
                            many of them could retire at the same time as current controllers. While
                            data on the age and service time of the former controllers who qualify for
                            rehire are available, FAA has not analyzed these data to determine when the
                            former controllers would become eligible to retire and thus would need to
                            be replaced.




                            Page 5                     GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
                           Executive Summary




                           To ensure that it has enough controller candidates, FAA is expanding the
                           number of post-secondary schools participating in the collegiate and
                           cooperative education programs. According to FAA officials, the collegiate
                           program will include 18 additional schools by September 1997.

                           FAA intends to provide a portion of initial controller training for all
                           collegiate program candidates at the FAA Academy in order to standardize
                           training on the latest equipment and reduce on-the-job training time and
                           costs. However, under this approach, FAA will assume some of the costs of
                           training that many candidates in the collegiate program are currently
                           paying. FAA has not analyzed the cost-effectiveness of changing its
                           approach to training new controllers.


FAA Officials Identified   In April 1996, FAA’s total controller workforce was 17,163, compared to the
Impediments That           staffing standard of 17,465—a difference of about 2 percent. However,
Contribute to Staffing     when GAO examined staffing at specific ATC facilities, there was a greater
                           difference between actual staffing and the standards at about half of the
Imbalances at ATC          facilities. Specifically, about 21 percent of ATC facilities were staffed at
Facilities                 levels more than 10 percent above FAA’s standards, while 32 percent of ATC
                           facilities were staffed at levels more than 10 percent below the standards.
                           While some differences may be acceptable because of certain
                           circumstances, such as workload factors that are unique to particular
                           facilities, FAA headquarters officials acknowledged that some facilities
                           have too many controllers, while others have too few.

                           FAA regional officials told us that one impediment to alleviating the staffing
                           imbalances is FAA’s practice of waiting until the end of the fiscal year to
                           distribute funds to relocate controllers among facilities. Funds initially
                           designated to move controllers are used during the year to supplement
                           cost increases for other operating expenses. According to FAA regional
                           officials, this practice delays controller moves, creates uncertainty, and
                           inhibits the timely and effective allocation of resources within the regions.
                           FAA headquarters officials agreed that this practice causes problems but
                           told GAO that sufficient funds have always been available to pay for
                           controller moves by the end of the fiscal year.

                           A second impediment, according to regional officials, is that they have
                           limited authority to hire new controllers from their geographic areas. FAA
                           headquarters officials agreed and explained that they currently require
                           that most new controllers come from two pools of candidates—the
                           controllers who were fired in 1981 or graduates of the collegiate



                           Page 6                     GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
                  Executive Summary




                  program—regardless of the candidates’ geographic preferences. This often
                  requires new controllers to move in order to get hired. Once hired, many
                  new controllers request transfers to other more desirable facilities. More
                  local recruiting, FAA officials explained, would help reduce the number of
                  controller transfers and resignations, particularly at facilities that are hard
                  to staff, because newly hired controllers would begin working in their
                  preferred geographic areas.

                  A third impediment, cited by officials in all FAA regions, is limited hiring in
                  recent years because of budget constraints, which has resulted in fewer
                  new controllers being assigned to some ATC facilities. Regional officials
                  told us that new controllers are needed to fill vacancies created by
                  attrition, as well as to provide a buffer against future retirements.
                  According to these officials, an inability to fill vacancies has led to
                  increased overtime and reduced controller training at some facilities.

                  While FAA is proposing a variety of initiatives to address its staffing
                  problems—including more regional recruiting and hiring, and instituting
                  an interim incentive pay program for hard-to-staff facilities—it is too soon
                  to determine their effectiveness.


                  To improve FAA’s process for estimating and meeting future controller
Recommendations   staffing needs, GAO recommends that the Secretary of Transportation
                  direct the Administrator of FAA to (1) incorporate actual information on
                  the age, years of service, and retirement eligibility date of current
                  controllers into its projections of future controller retirements; (2) use age
                  and service data to determine when controllers fired in 1981 and rehired
                  could retire and therefore would need to be replaced; and (3) monitor the
                  costs of training for collegiate program graduates hired in fiscal years 1997
                  and 1998 to determine whether anticipated savings will be realized under
                  the revised training program.


                  We provided copies of a draft of this report to FAA for its review and
Agency Comments   comment. FAA officials, including the Acting Deputy Associate
                  Administrator for Air Traffic Services, concurred with our
                  recommendations and provided clarifying comments which have been
                  incorporated as appropriate.




                  Page 7                     GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
Contents



Executive Summary                                                                                      2


Chapter 1                                                                                             12
                      Role of Air Traffic Controllers in the U.S. Air Transportation                  12
Introduction            System
                      Available Controller Candidates and Air Traffic Controller                      14
                        Training
                      The Two Sets of Retirement Rules That Affect Controllers’                       15
                        Eligibility for Retirement
                      Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                              16

Chapter 2                                                                                             19
                      Controller Staffing Needs Are Based on Staffing Standards                       19
FAA Could Improve       Forecast Models
the Accuracy of Its   FAA’s Recent Staffing Requests Reflect Its Estimates of Increased               21
                        Controller Attrition
Forecasts of          Workload Estimates Are Reasonable, but Attrition Estimates May                  24
Controller Staffing     Overstate Future Retirements
Needs by Using        Five Factors Limit the Reasonableness of FAA’s Projections of                   27
                        Long-Term Controller Needs
Available Data        Data on the Age and Service Time of Recently Retired Controllers                31
                        Indicate That Fewer Controllers Could Retire in Future Years
                        Than FAA Has Forecast
                      Conclusions                                                                     38
                      Recommendation                                                                  39
                      Agency Comments                                                                 39

Chapter 3                                                                                             40
                      A Sufficient Number of Controller Candidates Is Available to Fill               40
FAA Can Meet            Short-Term Staffing Needs
Short-Term Staffing   Rehiring of Former PATCO Members May Only Fill Staffing                         41
                        Needs in the Short Term
Needs While           FAA Is Expanding Its Controller Candidate Pool to Address                       43
Developing Plans to     Long-Term Staffing Needs and Is Revising Its Controller Training
Address Long-Term       Program
                      Conclusions                                                                     46
Needs                 Recommendations                                                                 47
                      Agency Comments                                                                 47




                      Page 8                    GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
                          Contents




Chapter 4                                                                                                 48
                          Many ATC Facilities Are Not Staffed at Specified Levels                         48
FAA Has Identified        FAA Officials Identified Impediments That Contribute to Staffing                52
Several Impediments         Imbalances at ATC Facilities
                          FAA Has Several Initiatives Under Way to Address Staffing                       55
That Hinder Its Ability     Differences
to Staff ATC Facilities   Conclusions                                                                     57
at Specified Levels
Appendixes                Appendix I: Explanation of the Model We Used to Estimate                        60
                            Future Controller Retirements
                          Appendix II: FAA Regional Offices, Air Traffic Control Facilities,              62
                            and NATCA Representatives Contacted for Our Review
                          Appendix III: Major Contributors to This Report                                 63

Tables                    Table 1.1: Retirement Eligibility Rules for Controllers                         16
                          Table 2.1: FAA’s Controller Workforce, Fiscal Years 1993-96                     21
                          Table 2.2: FAA’s Estimates of Controller Hiring, Attrition, and the             22
                           Total Controller Workforce, Fiscal Years 1997-2002
                          Table 2.3: Actual and Predicted Levels of En Route Center                       25
                           Activity in Millions of Aircraft Handled, Fiscal Years 1991-95
                          Table 2.4: FAA’s Estimates and Actual Controller Retirements                    26
                           and Resignations, Fiscal Year 1995
                          Table 2.5: Projections of Controller Retirements According to                   37
                           FAA’s Staffing Plan and Those Derived From Age and Service
                           Data, Fiscal Years 1997-2002
                          Table 3.1: Controller Hiring and Available Controller Candidates,               41
                           Fiscal Years 1997 and 1998
                          Table 4.1: Summary of PCS Funding, Spending, and Moves for                      53
                           Fiscal Years 1993-97
                          Table I.1: Estimated Number of Controller Retirements Based on                  61
                           Age and Service Time

Figures                   Figure 1.1: Aircraft Tracking at ATC Facilities                                 13
                          Figure 2.1: FAA’s Controller Workforce Compared to the Staffing                 20
                            Standards, Fiscal Years 1993-96
                          Figure 2.2: FAA’s Estimates of the Number of Controllers Eligible               23
                            for Retirement, Fiscal Years 1997-2007




                          Page 9                    GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
Contents




Figure 2.3: FAA’s Estimates of the Number of Controllers                       30
  Becoming Eligible to Retire Compared to Those Projected to
  Retire, Fiscal Years 1997-2006
Figure 2.4: FAA’s Retirement Projections Compared to the                       32
  Annual Number of Controllers Reaching 31 Years of Federal
  Service, Fiscal Years 1997-2011
Figure 2.5: FAA’s Retirement Projections Compared to the                       34
  Annual Number of Controllers Reaching 56 Years of Age, Fiscal
  Years 1997-2011
Figure 2.6: FAA’s Retirement Projections Compared to                           36
  Retirement Projections Based on Controllers’ Age and Years of
  Federal Service, Fiscal Years 1997-2011
Figure 3.1: Comparison of FAA’s Existing and Revised Training                  45
  Programs
Figure 4.1: Comparison of the Current Number of Controllers and                50
  Staffing Standards Levels for En Route Centers
Figure 4.2: Comparison of the Current Number of Controllers and                51
  Staffing Standards Levels for Terminal Facilities




Abbreviations

ATC        Air Traffic Control
ATO        Office of Air Traffic Operations
ATS        Air Traffic Services
CSRS       Civil Service Retirement System
CTI        collegiate training initiative
DOD        Department of Defense
FAA        Federal Aviation Administration
FERS       Federal Employees Retirement System
FPL        full performance level
GAO        General Accounting Office
MARC       Mid-America Aviation Resource Consortium
NATCA      National Air Traffic Controllers Association
PATCO      Professional Air Traffic Control Organization
PCS        permanent change of station
TRACON     terminal radar approach control


Page 10                  GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
Page 11   GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
Chapter 1

Introduction


                          Each year, over 18,000 aircraft and more than 500 million passengers
                          travel through the air transportation system in the United States. The
                          Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has responsibility for managing this
                          system and ensuring the safe and efficient movement of air traffic. To
                          successfully accomplish this mission, FAA must have a sufficient number of
                          adequately trained air traffic controllers working at air traffic control (ATC)
                          facilities. Currently, FAA operates nearly 400 ATC facilities and employs
                          over 17,000 individuals in its controller workforce.1

                          For nearly a decade after the air traffic controller strike in August 1981,
                          FAA had to rebuild its controller workforce. Between fiscal years 1982 and
                          1990, FAA hired thousands of controllers to replace those fired by a
                          presidential directive in 1981 and indefinitely barred from seeking future
                          employment as FAA controllers. Most controllers hired during that period
                          have remained with FAA. In August 1993, the bar was repealed through a
                          presidential memorandum, and in 1995, FAA began rehiring some of the
                          former controllers. FAA anticipates that a large number of these
                          controllers, in addition to the controllers who did not participate in the
                          strike and controllers hired after the strike, will become eligible to retire
                          beginning in the early 2000s, when they first meet minimum retirement
                          qualifications.


                          Air traffic controllers play a critical role in the nation’s air transportation
Role of Air Traffic       system. Specifically, controllers are responsible for ensuring the safe,
Controllers in the U.S.   orderly, and expeditious flow of air traffic in the air and on the ground.
Air Transportation        Controllers manage air traffic visually and through the use of various types
                          of equipment, such as radars and computers, at various ATC
System                    facilities—control towers, terminal radar approach control (TRACON)
                          facilities,2 and air route traffic control centers (commonly called “en route
                          centers”).

                          Controllers’ responsibilities for managing air traffic vary according to the
                          type of ATC facility. For instance, controllers that work at control towers
                          are responsible for ensuring the safe separation of aircraft on the ground
                          and in flight in the vicinity of airports, generally within a 5-mile radius.
                          These controllers manage the flow of aircraft during takeoffs and landings
                          and coordinate the transfer of aircraft with adjacent ATC facilities as

                          1
                           The controller workforce comprises about 14,500 ATC specialists (controllers), 2,000 first-line
                          supervisors, and 560 air traffic management coordinators.
                          2
                           FAA classifies TRACON facilities and control towers as terminal facilities. Therefore, to maintain
                          consistency, we use this term when referring to ATC facilities in this report.



                          Page 12                             GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
                                       Chapter 1
                                       Introduction




                                       aircraft enter or leave an airport’s airspace. Controllers working at TRACON
                                       facilities manage the arrival and departure of aircraft within a 5- to 30-mile
                                       radius of airports. Controllers working at en route centers manage aircraft
                                       beyond a 30-mile radius. These controllers assign aircraft to specific
                                       routes and altitudes to separate aircraft while they are flying along federal
                                       airways or when operating into or out of airports not served by a terminal
                                       facility. These controllers also coordinate the transfer of aircraft control
                                       with adjacent en route centers or terminal facilities. The typical en route
                                       center has responsibility for more than 100,000 square miles of airspace,
                                       which generally extends over several states. Depending on the location of
                                       the en route center, some controllers manage domestic, international, and
                                       oceanic air traffic. Figure 1.1 shows how controllers working at the
                                       different ATC facilities track aircraft during ground, take off, landing, and
                                       in-flight operations. As of April 10, 1996, FAA operated 387 ATC facilities,
                                       consisting of 24 en route centers and 363 terminal facilities.


Figure 1.1: Aircraft Tracking at ATC
Facilities




                                                                            Air Route Traffic
                                                                            Control Center

                                                                           TRACON/Airport
                                                                               Tower




                                                                Airport                          Airport
                                                               Take-off                         Landing




                                       FAA determines the appropriate level of staffing for its ATC facilities by
                                       using staffing standards forecast models. These models produce staffing
                                       standards—the specified level of controller staff needed to manage the ATC
                                       system, within 10 percent. For example, the staffing standards indicated in
                                       fiscal year 1996 that there should have been 17,465 controllers in the
                                       controller workforce. The standards also specified staffing levels for each




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                       Chapter 1
                       Introduction




                       ATC facility, but according to FAA officials, the facility-level standards are
                       not designed to be as accurate as the national standards.


                       FAA relies on a number of sources to fill its controller positions. These
Available Controller   sources are (1) individuals with no prior controller training or work
Candidates and Air     experience in the ATC environment, (2) individuals who have received
Traffic Controller     some controller training but generally do not have work experience in the
                       federal ATC environment, and (3) individuals with prior controller work
Training               experience.

                       The first group includes individuals who respond to vacancy
                       announcements for controller positions. The second group includes
                       graduates of the collegiate training initiative (CTI) program, who received
                       initial ATC academic and technical skills training prior to being hired by FAA
                       as controllers.3 This type of training introduces the students to the
                       terminology, airspace configurations, and technical skills necessary to
                       manage air traffic and operate equipment. The third group includes former
                       controllers fired in 1981, who were members of the Professional Air
                       Traffic Controller Organization (PATCO) union; former controllers who left
                       FAA voluntarily and are eligible for reinstatement; and former Department
                       of Defense (DOD) civilian and military controllers.

                       Controller candidates who have no prior controller training or work
                       experience had received initial controller training at the FAA Academy in
                       Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.4 However, FAA discontinued initial controller
                       training for newly hired controllers at the Academy in 1992 due to a sharp
                       decrease in controller hiring.

                       Candidates who currently receive initial controller training through the CTI
                       program are trained at one of four CTI schools located in various parts of
                       the country. These schools are the Community College of Beaver County
                       in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania; Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia;
                       University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, North Dakota; and University
                       of Alaska-Anchorage in Anchorage, Alaska. The type, length, and cost of
                       controller training provided by the CTI schools vary, and students pay the
                       cost of their training at all these schools. In addition, in 1989 the Congress


                       3
                        In January 1991, FAA established the CTI program to test whether postsecondary educational
                       institutions could provide and validate controller training and screening. This program was intended to
                       supplement FAA’s controller training program.
                       4
                        The FAA Academy in Oklahoma City provides management and technical training to controllers,
                       inspectors, and other FAA personnel.



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                        Chapter 1
                        Introduction




                        established the Mid-America Aviation Resource Consortium (MARC) in
                        Eden Prairie, Minnesota, to train controller candidates. Unlike the CTI
                        schools, the MARC program is not part of a broader academic program, and
                        the cost of training MARC students is paid by federal funds.

                        Controller candidates with prior controller work experience, such as
                        former PATCO members and former DOD controllers, are not required to
                        repeat the initial controller training when hired by FAA. However, they
                        must complete certain refresher courses at the FAA Academy.

                        Once assigned to an ATC facility, controllers are classified as
                        “developmental controllers” until they complete all requirements to be
                        certified for all of the ATC positions within a defined area of a given ATC
                        facility. It generally takes new controllers who have had only initial
                        controller training 2 to 4 years—depending on the availability of facility
                        staff or contractors to provide on-the-job training—to complete all the
                        certification requirements to become full-performance-level (FPL)
                        controllers. It normally takes individuals who have prior controller
                        experience 1 to 2 years to become FPL controllers.


                        Controllers working at FAA’s ATC facilities are eligible to retire under two
The Two Sets of         sets of retirement rules—the general retirement rules for federal
Retirement Rules That   employees and special rules for controllers only. Depending on when they
Affect Controllers’     were hired, controllers are covered by either the Civil Service Retirement
                        System (CSRS) or the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS). Under
Eligibility for         these rules, controllers can retire if they meet certain age and
Retirement              years-of-service requirements. For example, a controller who is 55 years
                        old can retire after 30 years of federal service. Under the special controller
                        retirement rules, controllers may be able to retire earlier than under the
                        general CSRS and FERS rules if they have enough service time as an active
                        controller or immediate supervisor. For instance, controllers can retire at
                        age 50 if they have spent at least 20 years as an active civilian controller or
                        immediate supervisor or at any age if they have spent at least 25 years as
                        an active civilian controller or immediate supervisor. Table 1.1
                        summarizes all of these rules.




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                                          Introduction




Table 1.1: Retirement Eligibility Rules
for Controllers                           Type of retirement                                            Age                Years of service
                                          CSRS (applicable for most                                       62                                  5
                                          federal employees hired
                                          before 1984)
                                                                                                          60                                 20
                                                                                                          55                                 30
                                          FERS (applicable for most                                       62                                  5
                                          federal employees hired in or
                                          after 1984)
                                                                                                          60                                 20
                                                                                                             a
                                                                                                    55 to 57                                 30
                                          Special controller retirement                                   50                                 20
                                          under either CSRS or FERS
                                          (service time must be as an
                                          active controller or immediate
                                          supervisor)
                                                                                                         any                                 25
                                          a
                                           Retirement eligibility under FERS is subject to a minimum retirement age that differs depending
                                          on the birth date of the employee.

                                          Source: Office of Personnel Management’s publications.




                                          In March 1996, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee
Objectives, Scope,                        on Transportation, House Committee on Appropriations, and Ranking
and Methodology                           Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
                                          asked us to examine FAA’s efforts for addressing future and existing
                                          controller staffing needs. Specifically, we were asked to (1) identify the
                                          key variables FAA uses to project future controller staffing needs and
                                          evaluate their reasonableness, (2) determine whether FAA has identified a
                                          sufficient number of controller candidates to satisfy its short- and
                                          long-term controller staffing needs and evaluate FAA’s plans to train new
                                          controllers, and (3) identify impediments that hinder FAA from staffing ATC
                                          facilities at specified levels.

                                          To address the first objective, we interviewed officials in FAA’s Office of
                                          Air Traffic Resource Management, Office of Human Resources
                                          Management, and Office of Business Information and Consultation who
                                          are responsible for managing the controller workforce and preparing the
                                          staffing standards models. These officials provided information on the
                                          data used to support FAA’s staffing requests, including FAA’s projections of
                                          air traffic and attrition, which we compared to available data on actual




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traffic and attrition. We also used personnel data supplied by FAA to
estimate the age and service characteristics of future retirees on the basis
of characteristics of actual retirees between fiscal years 1992 and 1996.
Additional information on how we made these projections is in appendix I.
We did not, however, verify the validity of the staffing estimates generated
by the staffing standards forecast models because the National Research
Council—which is the principal operating agency of the National Academy
of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering—was reviewing
FAA’s methodologies for estimating the number of controllers needed at
ATC facilities. However, the Council was not reviewing the part of the
models that estimates future attrition. Furthermore, the Council expects to
issue a final report in the spring of 1997.

To address the second objective, we interviewed officials at the FAA
Academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the MARC, and the four CTI schools
to obtain information on the number of controller candidates trained at
those facilities during fiscal years 1993 to 1996 and the annual capacity of
these facilities to train new controllers. We also interviewed FAA
headquarters officials and analyzed pertinent data to determine (1) what
was the pool of controller candidates available to meet anticipated staffing
needs, (2) whether FAA had developed plans to satisfy long-term staffing
needs, and (3) what actions FAA had under way to expand the pool of
available controller candidates.

To address the third objective, we compared controller staffing levels
specified by FAA’s controller staffing standards with actual staffing at the
national, regional, and facility levels as of April 10, 1996. We also reviewed
pertinent documents and interviewed officials in FAA’s Air Traffic Resource
Management Office and the National Air Traffic Controller Association
(NATCA) in Washington, D.C.

To obtain a nationwide perspective on controller staffing issues, we sent a
survey to, followed by a semistructured telephone interview with, air
traffic managers at the nine FAA regional offices. In addition, we sent the
same survey to air traffic managers at 15 ATC facilities (see app. II),
including 3 en route centers, and at 12 terminals, as well as NATCA
representatives located at the Eastern, Great Lakes, and Southern regions
to obtain their perspectives on (1) their staffing needs as compared to
current controller staffing levels and the impact of these differences on
controller operations, (2) the impediments or principal causes of staffing
differences at ATC facilities, and (3) the initiatives FAA has under way to
address the impediments. We selected a judgmental sample of 15 ATC



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facilities to obtain geographical diversity and a representative mix of
facilities where the current controller staffing levels were greater or less
than the 10-percent difference acceptable to FAA. The three NATCA regions
were selected because all 15 ATC facilities that we contacted were located
in these regions.

We conducted our review from April 1996 through February 1997 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

We provided copies of a draft of this report to FAA for its review and
comment. FAA officials, including the Acting Deputy Associate
Administrator for Air Traffic Services, commented on the report, and
changes in response to their comments are contained throughout the
report.




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Chapter 2

FAA Could Improve the Accuracy of Its
Forecasts of Controller Staffing Needs by
Using Available Data
                          FAA’s projections of future controller staffing needs are primarily based on
                          its staffing standards forecast models that use two key variables to
                          forecast future needs—estimates of future air traffic growth and estimates
                          of future controller attrition. While the air traffic estimates have been
                          reasonable, FAA could not provide data needed to evaluate its attrition
                          estimates. FAA’s attrition estimates could overstate retirements in future
                          years because the agency has not compiled some of the information
                          needed to determine when controllers will be eligible to retire and because
                          it does not consider available data on controllers’ age and service time in
                          its attrition estimates. By analyzing such data, we found that controller
                          retirements could be significantly lower than FAA projects beginning in
                          1999.


                          Historically, FAA has based its staffing requests on its long-standing staffing
Controller Staffing       standards forecast models—it uses separate models for en route centers,
Needs Are Based on        TRACON facilities, and control towers. The models forecast the number of

Staffing Standards        controllers that will be needed by using three types of data:

Forecast Models       •   periodic industrial engineering studies that measure the amount of time it
                          takes a controller to perform necessary work tasks, such as assigning an
                          airplane to a new altitude;
                      •   estimates of changes in air traffic activity; and
                      •   estimates of future controller attrition.

                          According to FAA officials, the staffing standards process undergoes
                          periodic revision to update data and improve methodologies. As a result of
                          these updates, FAA’s estimate of the total number of controllers it needs
                          can change from year to year.

                          According to FAA officials, its models have been used to estimate
                          controller staffing needs at ATC facilities nationwide, plus or minus
                          10 percent, and have served as key components for formulating FAA’s
                          annual budget. Before being submitted to the Congress, the staffing budget
                          is reviewed within FAA, as well as by the Department of Transportation and
                          by the Office of Management and Budget.

                          The size of the controller workforce grew each fiscal year from 1981
                          through 1992, when it reached 17,982 controllers. In fiscal year 1991, the
                          last full year in which FAA offered initial training only at its Academy in
                          Oklahoma City, FAA hired a total of 1,235 new controller candidates.
                          Subsequently, FAA’s hiring of new controllers decreased significantly



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                                         because it had more controllers than specified by the staffing standards.
                                         Between fiscal years 1993 and 1996, FAA hired a total of 611 new
                                         controllers—fewer than the 1,513 who had left the controller workforce
                                         over the same period—resulting in a decrease in the size of the controller
                                         workforce (see fig. 2.1 and table 2.1). According to FAA officials, most of
                                         the decrease in the size of the controller workforce was due to the
                                         congressionally directed initiative to contract out the functions of
                                         lower-level control towers to private companies, instead of staffing them
                                         with FAA employees. As part of a larger presidential effort to reduce the
                                         number of federal employees, in 1994 FAA also offered a retirement
                                         incentive, called a buyout, to staff, including those controllers who worked
                                         at the towers whose functions were contracted out. In fiscal year 1995,
                                         FAA’s end-of-year controller workforce dropped below the level specified
                                         by the staffing standards. Although the actual controller workforce
                                         differed from the staffing standards by as much as 400 in some years,
                                         nationwide staffing levels were well within the standards’ 10-percent
                                         tolerance level.


Figure 2.1: FAA’s Controller Workforce
Compared to the Staffing Standards,         Controllers in workforce
Fiscal Years 1993-96                        18,000




                                                                                                Staffing standard forcast
                                            17,500




                                            17,000




                                            16,500
                                                               1993             1994              1995              1996
                                                                           End-of-year controller workforce


                                         Source: FAA’s data.




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Table 2.1: FAA’s Controller Workforce,
Fiscal Years 1993-96                     Fiscal year                                            1993        1994         1995        1996
                                         Start-of-year controller workforce                   17,982       17,688      17,544       17,322
                                         Workforce specified by the staffing
                                         standards                                            17,327       17,329      17,535       17,486
                                         Newly hired controllers                                  220        134          157         100
                                         Attrition                                                514        278          379         342
                                         End-of-year controller workforce                     17,688       17,544      17,322       17,080
                                         Source: FAA’s Air Traffic Staffing Plan and Staffing Standards.



                                         This report does not evaluate FAA’s staffing standards. We have previously
                                         reported on FAA’s staffing standards, and FAA has taken action to address
                                         our prior recommendations.1 In addition, the standards process is
                                         currently undergoing a congressionally requested review by an expert
                                         panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences. The study was
                                         requested to determine if a comprehensive methodology could be
                                         developed to provide more accurate estimates of the required number of
                                         controllers at each ATC facility, and its findings are expected to be
                                         published in the spring of 1997.


                                         After the controller workforce dropped below the levels specified by the
FAA’s Recent Staffing                    standards in 1995, FAA initiated plans to increase hiring. FAA currently plans
Requests Reflect Its                     to increase both hiring and the overall size of the controller workforce
Estimates of                             over the next 4 years. In fiscal year 1997, FAA requested and received funds
                                         to hire 500 new controllers—250 to replace controllers expected to leave
Increased Controller                     the workforce that year and 250 to meet projected future needs. FAA’s
Attrition                                fiscal year 1998 request includes funds for 800 new controllers—300
                                         replacements and 500 new positions. Table 2.2 provides FAA’s estimates of
                                         controller hiring, attrition, and the total workforce through fiscal year
                                         2002. As the table shows, estimated attrition is expected to increase from
                                         280 controllers in fiscal year 1997 to 550 controllers in fiscal year 2002.




                                         1
                                          See FAA Staffing: Improvements Needed in Estimating Air Traffic Controller Requirements
                                         (GAO/RCED-88-106, June 21, 1988).



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Table 2.2: FAA’s Estimates of
Controller Hiring, Attrition, and the                          Start-of-
Total Controller Workforce, Fiscal                                 year                                      End-of-year
Years 1997-2002                                               controller            Planned    Estimated      controller
                                        Fiscal year           workforce            new hires     attrition    workforce    Net change
                                        1997                       17,080               500           280        17,300         +220
                                        1998                       17,300               800           300        17,800         +500
                                        1999                       17,800               650           400        18,050         +250
                                        2000                       18,050               700           450        18,300         +250
                                        2001                       18,300               350           500        18,150         –150
                                        2002                       18,150               422           550        18,022         –128
                                        Source: FAA’s Air Traffic Staffing Plan.



                                        According to officials at FAA headquarters, the attrition estimates that
                                        support its recent staffing requests are based in part on the staffing
                                        standards forecast models and in part on another method that is intended
                                        to address an anticipated increase in the number of controllers eligible to
                                        retire. This second method is based on FAA’s assumption that 20 percent of
                                        those who are eligible to retire will do so each year. According to FAA
                                        officials, because many controllers hired after the 1981 PATCO strike will
                                        first be eligible to retire around fiscal year 2001, they expect more
                                        controllers to retire each year as more become eligible. Figure 2.2 shows
                                        FAA’s estimates of the number of controllers who will become eligible to
                                        retire each year though fiscal year 2007, as well as the estimated size of the
                                        total pool of those eligible to retire each year through fiscal year 2002, the
                                        last year of FAA’s controller staffing plan. However, FAA officials were not
                                        able to specify how much of the estimated increase in attrition is predicted
                                        by the staffing standards forecast models and how much is derived from
                                        its estimate of future retirements.




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                                                   Using Available Data




Figure 2.2: FAA’s Estimates of the Number of Controllers Eligible for Retirement, Fiscal Years 1997-2007


      Controllers
      3,600




      3,200




      2,800




      2,400




      2,000




      1,600




      1,200




       800




       400




         0
                    1997     1998        1999         2000        2001         2002        2003         2004        2005         2006   2007
                                                                          Fiscal year


               Estimated pool of controllers who would have become eligible for controller retirement in previous fiscal years
               Estimated pool of controllers who would become eligible for controller retirement in the designated fiscal year



                                                   Source: FAA’s data.




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                       In addition to reflecting changes in the number of controllers eligible to
                       retire, FAA’s staffing plan also differs from the annual staffing levels
                       projected by the staffing standards in several other ways. First, the plan
                       anticipates hiring replacements 3 years before they are needed to provide
                       them with adequate training. In this way, FAA will have fully trained
                       replacements for those who retire. According to FAA officials, the plan also
                       reflects an effort to spread out hiring over several years to reduce the
                       training burden on its Academy and ATC facilities. Thus, because FAA’s
                       staffing plan is designed to hire enough controllers to be at the level
                       specified by the standards in fiscal year 2002, controller staffing is
                       expected to again be above the standards in fiscal years 1998-2001.

                       Officials we interviewed in eight of FAA’s nine regions expressed concerns
                       about the adequacy of the future controller workforce that were similar to
                       those expressed by headquarters officials. The regional officials were
                       concerned about an increase in attrition in the coming years due to the
                       pending retirement eligibility of those controllers who did not strike, those
                       hired after 1981, and former PATCO members who have been rehired by FAA.
                       Many of these officials also emphasized that FAA needs an adequate supply
                       of new controllers to provide time to train replacements for those who
                       retire.


                       The first key variable FAA uses to project future controller staffing needs is
Workload Estimates     an estimate of the growth in the volume of air traffic, which FAA’s Office of
Are Reasonable, but    Aviation Policy and Plans derives from a model that includes several
Attrition Estimates    measures of overall economic activity (e.g., the consumer price index) and
                       aviation-specific statistics, as well as expert opinions on future trends.
May Overstate Future   These estimates have been closer to actual traffic levels in the short term
Retirements            than over longer periods. For example, between fiscal years 1992 and
                       1995, the estimates of activity at en route centers that were made 1 year
                       earlier came, on average, within 1 percent of the actual level of activity.
                       The estimates made 4 years earlier were, on average, 7.4 percent higher
                       than the actual level (see table 2.3). According to FAA officials, these
                       estimates are reasonable because they fall within the 10-percent tolerance
                       level of its models.




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Table 2.3: Actual and Predicted Levels
of En Route Center Activity in Millions                                                                                  Average
of Aircraft Handled, Fiscal Years                                                                                     percentage
1991-95                                                                                                                difference
                                                                                                                   between actual
                                                                                                                    and projected
                                          Fiscal year                       1991      1992      1993   1994   1995          levels
                                          Actual level                      36.2      37.2      37.6   38.9    40.2
                                          Level predicted 1 year
                                          earlier                           38.5      37.3      37.5   37.9    39.8              0.6 %
                                          Level predicted 2 years
                                          earlier                           39.1      39.6      38.3   38.4    38.6              2.2 %
                                          Level predicted 3 years
                                          earlier                           39.7      40.1      40.6   39.4    39.3              4.9 %
                                          Level predicted 4 years
                                          earlier                           40.3      40.8      41.0   41.5    40.3              7.4 %
                                          Source: FAA’s Aviation Forecasts, fiscal years 1996-2007.



                                          In addition to estimates of future workload, FAA’s staffing standards
                                          forecast models use projections of future attrition to determine controller
                                          staffing needs. These projections, called pipeline models, are based on
                                          actual experience over a recent 3-year period. FAA looks at who entered
                                          and left the controller workforce through several methods, such as
                                          retirement or resignation, promotion, or moving to or from a staff position.
                                          Using 3 years of data on actual movements, FAA determines what
                                          percentage of controllers entered or left the workforce by each method,
                                          then projects that percentage to future years. For example, in fiscal year
                                          1995, 114 of 6,432 controllers at en route centers (or 1.8 percent) retired or
                                          resigned. By performing the same comparison for fiscal years 1993
                                          through 1995 and averaging the results, FAA determined that on average
                                          1.69 percent of the controllers at en route centers retired or resigned
                                          during that period. FAA then used this percentage to project future
                                          retirements or resignations of controllers at its en route centers. By using
                                          similar calculations for all types of controller movements to estimate the
                                          net gain or loss of controllers, FAA annually determines how many new
                                          controllers need to enter the training pipeline as replacements. FAA uses a
                                          separate model that uses similar variables to estimate the pipeline needs
                                          of its TRACON facilities and control towers. FAA’s two pipeline models are
                                          currently based on actual changes in its controller workforce during fiscal
                                          years 1993 through 1995 and are used to forecast the workforce needed for
                                          fiscal years 1996 through 2006.




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                                        While the pipeline models include estimates of the number of controllers
                                        who leave the workforce to take staff positions or return from such
                                        positions each year, according to agency officials, the number of
                                        controllers leaving to take such positions has roughly equalled the number
                                        of controllers returning, so there has been little net impact on the overall
                                        size of the controller workforce. Also, agency officials estimate that the
                                        number of controllers resigning from the workforce without qualifying for
                                        retirement will remain steady at about 40 controllers per year. As a result,
                                        although the models forecast attrition from all sources, the forecasts for
                                        new controllers are primarily the result of retirement estimates.

                                        We asked FAA for previous versions of its pipeline models so we could
                                        compare attrition estimates made by earlier models to actual data from
                                        recent years. Because FAA does not maintain copies of the models from
                                        previous years, officials could not provide us with attrition estimates for
                                        years prior to fiscal year 1995. However, FAA did provide copies of the
                                        models used to project attrition for fiscal year 1995. Table 2.4 shows that
                                        20 more controllers retired or resigned in fiscal year 1995 than projected
                                        by the terminal and en route center models. Without data from earlier
                                        years, however, we were not able to evaluate the reasonableness of the
                                        attrition estimates produced by FAA’s previous pipeline models.

Table 2.4: FAA’s Estimates and Actual
Controller Retirements and                                                                                     Actual attrition
Resignations, Fiscal Year 1995                                                                                             as a
                                                                  Projected               Actual                percentage of
                                        Type of facility        retirements         retirements     Difference total workforce
                                        Terminal
                                        (TRACON and
                                        tower)                           129                145              16              1.8%
                                        En route center                  110                114               4              1.7%
                                        Total                            239                259              20              1.7%
                                        Source: FAA’s 1995 and 1996 pipeline models.




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                            Because the actual rate at which controllers retire depends on the
Five Factors Limit the      decisions of thousands of individual controllers, definitively predicting
Reasonableness of           how many controllers will actually retire in any year is impossible. Most
FAA’s Projections of        controllers hired under FERS are required to retire from actively controlling
                            air traffic when they first become eligible, if they are at least 56. In
Long-Term Controller        contrast, most controllers hired under CSRS are not subject to mandatory
Needs                       retirement rules, unless hired after 1972.2 According to FAA officials, if a
                            controller is not subject to mandatory retirement, such considerations as
                            the state of the economy and the family status of the controller can affect
                            the controller’s decision about whether to continue working after
                            becoming eligible to retire. Because such considerations are not within
                            FAA’s control, either a greater or lesser number of controllers could retire
                            than forecast. If attrition estimates are too high, FAA could hire too many
                            controllers, unnecessarily increasing the cost of operating the nation’s ATC
                            system. If attrition estimates are too low, FAA could have fewer controllers
                            than needed, causing an unanticipated increase in the use of overtime and,
                            in extreme cases, flight delays to ensure that the safety of the ATC system
                            would not be compromised.

                            Despite the difficulty of accurately predicting future needs, FAA has to
                            estimate these needs to justify its budget requests for staffing and
                            equipment. Without accurate projections of controller staffing levels and
                            retirements, FAA cannot hire sufficient replacements and provide them
                            with the 2 to 4 years of training needed to achieve full performance level.
                            However, five aspects of the way FAA determines its projections of future
                            staffing needs raise questions about the reasonableness of projections in
                            future years.


Percentage of Controllers   FAA’s practice of estimating attrition as a fixed percentage of the controller
Eligible to Retire Is       workforce may not accurately reflect future attrition because the agency
Expected to Change          expects to experience a significant increase in the number of controllers
                            becoming eligible to retire in the next several years. For example, between
                            fiscal years 1995 and 2000, FAA estimates that the number of controllers
                            who will become eligible for retirement each year will remain relatively
                            constant at about 330 to 440. However, FAA also estimates that in fiscal
                            year 2001, the number eligible to retire will increase to 522 controllers, in
                            fiscal year 2002 to 841 controllers, and in fiscal year 2007 to 1,361
                            controllers. Should these estimates prove correct and more controllers
                            become eligible to retire, it is likely that more controllers will exercise

                            2
                             Under both systems, the President and the Secretary of Transportation have the authority, under
                            certain circumstances, to waive mandatory retirement up to age 61 for individual controllers.



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                            their option to retire. Since retirements account for most controller
                            attrition, it is possible that the percentage of controllers who actually leave
                            the workforce will be different than was experienced in fiscal years 1993
                            through 1995.


Attrition Estimates Could   The staffing standards forecast models estimate future attrition according
Be Inflated by Data From    to data on actual attrition during fiscal years 1993 through 1995. However,
Buyout in 1994              during fiscal 1994, 139 of the 510 controllers who retired voluntarily took
                            the buyout previously described. Most of these controllers worked at
                            level-1 towers, which were being contracted out to the private sector.
                            Because FAA does not plan to offer buyouts for controllers in the future,
                            including the departure of these controllers in estimates of future
                            retirements could inflate future attrition estimates.


Changes in the Workforce    Several of the regional FAA and NATCA officials we interviewed questioned
Could Affect Retirement     the reliability of using data on past retirees to predict future retirement, as
                            FAA’s staffing standards forecast models do. These officials indicated that
Rates
                            recent changes in the workforce, including an increased workload, a
                            better educated workforce, and the establishment of mandatory
                            retirement rules, suggest that controllers who are working today may not
                            retire at the same rate as past retirees. For example, these officials noted
                            that because controllers with a college education could have more options
                            for post-FAA employment, they could be more likely to retire early.


FAA’s Models Do Not         FAA’s staffing standards forecast models do not consider future changes in
Estimate the Impact of      FAA’s technology or policy. For example, FAA is currently purchasing new
                            ATC equipment and developing a plan to allow for “free flight,” or the
Future Changes in
                            ability of pilots to set their own flight path in certain areas. There was no
Technology or Policy        consensus, however, among the FAA regional and headquarters officials
                            that we spoke with on the impact of these changes. While some believe the
                            changes will only increase the reliability of the air traffic system, others
                            believed there will be a long-term increase in productivity, resulting in a
                            need for fewer controllers in the future. Others anticipate a short-term
                            decrease in productivity while controllers learn to use the new equipment.
                            In addition, FAA is finalizing changes to its training program (see ch. 3) that
                            could reduce the training burden on local ATC facilities. To the extent that
                            current controllers and supervisors are used to provide on-the-job-training
                            for newly hired controllers, these changes could allow the facilities to use
                            more staff to control traffic. Because these changes are still being



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                             developed, FAA has no way to quantify their impact on controller workload.
                             However, if FAA continues to estimate future needs by looking at past
                             performance without regard for planned changes, it will not be able to
                             take advantage of the increased efficiency those changes could deliver
                             until several years after they are implemented.


FAA Lacks Comprehensive      As discussed earlier, FAA’s hiring plan for controllers is based on two main
Data on When Controllers     factors—the staffing standards forecast models and an adjustment to
Will Be Eligible to Retire   account for an increase in the number of controllers eligible to retire.
                             However, the accuracy of FAA’s estimates of controller retirements may be
                             limited because FAA has not determined exactly when each controller can
                             become eligible to retire, because of a lack of easy access to data on
                             controllers’ work history. Specifically, FAA estimates, on the basis of past
                             retirement rates, that future retirements will equal about 20 percent of
                             those controllers eligible to retire each year. Figure 2.3 shows FAA’s
                             estimates of the number of controllers who will become eligible to retire
                             each year, as well as the number expected to retire though fiscal year
                             2002, the last year of FAA’s current staffing plan.3 This figure illustrates
                             FAA’s position that the number of retirees will increase as the number of
                             those eligible increases.




                             3
                              FAA’s retirement estimates differ by 40 controllers from its total attrition estimates to account for the
                             number of controllers estimated to permanently leave the workforce every year for reasons other than
                             retirement. FAA estimates that this rate will remain fairly constant through fiscal year 2002.



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                                                       FAA Could Improve the Accuracy of Its
                                                       Forecasts of Controller Staffing Needs by
                                                       Using Available Data




Figure 2.3: FAA’s Estimates of the Number of Controllers Becoming Eligible to Retire Compared to Those Projected to
Retire, Fiscal Years 1997-2006

     Controllers
     1,200




     1,000




      800




      600




      400




      200




         0
             1997            1998             1999            2000             2001         2002               2003           2004        2005   2006
                                                                                  Fiscal year



                    Estimated pool of controllers elegible for special controller retirement, by fiscal year
                    FAA's estimate of annual controller retirements, assuming all controllers qualify for special controller retirement



                                                       Source: FAA’s data and GAO’s analysis of FAA’s data.




                                                       While it is logical to conclude that more people would retire if more
                                                       became eligible, the accuracy of FAA’s projections is limited because the
                                                       agency has not compiled the data necessary to determine when each
                                                       controller will be eligible for special controller retirement. While FAA can



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                         FAA Could Improve the Accuracy of Its
                         Forecasts of Controller Staffing Needs by
                         Using Available Data




                         determine when an individual controller will be eligible to retire, the
                         information is not currently stored in a way in which it could be used to
                         determine the retirement eligibility of FAA’s entire controller workforce.
                         Instead of actual retirement eligibility data, FAA has based its estimates of
                         future retirements on the assumption that all controllers spend their entire
                         career as active controllers. For example, FAA has assumed that all
                         controllers who are at least 50 years old and have worked for FAA for at
                         least 20 years would be eligible to retire. While this assumption could
                         prove true in many cases, data from FAA’s pipeline models have indicated
                         that more than 1,300 controllers moved between the controller workforce
                         and staff positions each year between 1993 and 1995. Because many
                         controllers spend at least some time in staff positions where they do not
                         actively control traffic, the date on which they become eligible for special
                         controller retirement may be later than the one FAA has used in its
                         estimates. As a result, they could retire later than FAA has anticipated.


                         Rather than estimating future retirements on the basis of assumptions
Data on the Age and      about who will be eligible to retire, FAA could use actual information on
Service Time of          the age and service time of those controllers who retired in recent years,
Recently Retired         as well as current controllers, to predict future retirements. Using data
                         provided by FAA, we conducted such an analysis and found that, on
Controllers Indicate     average, controllers could retire later than projected by FAA’s fiscal year
That Fewer               1999 through 2002 staffing plan.
Controllers Could        The simplest way to use recent experience to estimate future retirements
Retire in Future Years   is to apply the average age and service time of recent retirees to those
Than FAA Has             controllers currently working for FAA. Using this approach, we found that,
                         on average, controllers who retired in fiscal years 1992 through 1996 had
Forecast                 about 31 years of federal service. Fewer than 15 percent retired with 25
                         years of federal service or less, one of the requirements for special
                         controller retirement. As figure 2.4 shows, should current controllers not
                         retire until they have earned 31 years of federal service, the number of
                         retirees will be much lower than FAA has projected for each year between
                         fiscal years 1998 and 2002. In fact, while FAA expects 510 controllers to
                         retire in fiscal year 2002, the first year in which at least 510 current
                         controllers reach 31 years of federal service is fiscal year 2008.




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                                                      Using Available Data




Figure 2.4: FAA’s Retirement Projections Compared to the Annual Number of Controllers Reaching 31 Years of Federal
Service, Fiscal Years 1997-2011

       Controllers

       1,000




        800




        600




                                                                                                                           Number of retirements projected
                                                                                                                           by FAA for fiscal year 2002 (510)


        400




        200




          0
                1997       1998      1999     2000      2001     2002       2003      2004        2005    2006    2007    2008     2009     2010      2011
                                                                                   Fiscal year



                       FAA's estimate of controller retirements each year
                       Number of controllers reaching 31 years of federal service each year



                                                      Source: FAA’s projections and GAO’s analysis of FAA’s data.




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Using Available Data




Next, we looked at the age of the controllers who retired during the past 5
years and found that their average age was about 56. This age is also
significant because federal law mandates that most controllers hired under
FERS and controllers hired under CSRS after 1972 retire from actively
controlling air traffic at age 56 unless granted an exemption. As figure 2.5
shows, the number of controllers who will turn 56 is lower than the
number FAA expects to retire each year between fiscal years 1997 and 2002.
The first year in which at least 510 current controllers turn 56 is fiscal year
2009.




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                                                    Using Available Data




Figure 2.5: FAA’s Retirement Projections Compared to the Annual Number of Controllers Reaching 56 Years of Age, Fiscal
Years 1997-2011

   Controllers
   1,000




     800




     600



                                                                                                                    Number of retirements
                                                                                                                    projected by FAA for fiscal
                                                                                                                    year 2002 (510)
     400




     200




       0
           1997      1998      1999      2000      2001     2002       2003      2004 2005     2006     2007      2008   2009      2010      2011
                                                                              Fiscal year



                  FAA's estimate of controller retirements each year
                  Number of controllers reaching 56 years of age each year



                                                    Source: FAA’s projections and GAO’s analysis of FAA’s data.




                                                    While using data on either the age or the service time of current
                                                    controllers can illustrate changes in the characteristics of future retirees, it




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Using Available Data




is preferable to base estimates of future retirements on both variables
because future retirees must meet both age and service criteria. According
to the official responsible for FAA’s staffing standards forecast models,
such an analysis would project future retirements more accurately than
the current staffing standards models. However, such an analysis is also
more complicated. To illustrate the combined effect of the age and service
of current controllers, we developed a probability model based on both
factors to project when each current controller would be likely to retire.
Figure 2.6 compares FAA’s retirement projections with our model’s
projections for fiscal years 1997 through 2011. For each fiscal year
between 1999 and 2002, our model projects that at least 100 fewer
controllers will retire than FAA estimates. Using this model, the number of
estimated retirees does not exceed 510 controllers until fiscal year 2008.
Appendix I explains the model in more detail and contains additional data.




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                                                   Forecasts of Controller Staffing Needs by
                                                   Using Available Data




Figure 2.6: FAA’s Retirement Projections Compared to Retirement Projections Based on Controllers’ Age and Years of
Federal Service, Fiscal Years 1997-2011


 Controllers
 1,000




   800




   600


                                                                                                          Number of retirements projected by
                                                                                                          FAA for fiscal year 2002 (510)

   400




   200




     0
         1997     1998      1999     2000      2001      2002        2003 2004 2005          2006    2007        2008   2009    2010     2011
                                                                         Fiscal year


                FAA's estimate of controller retirements each year
                Estimate of controller retirements each year based on age and service time



                                                   Source: FAA’s projections and GAO’s analysis of FAA’s data.




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                                          Using Available Data




                                          Table 2.5 compares the number of controller retirements FAA has projected
                                          with projections based on age, service time, and a combination of both. As
                                          this table shows, while FAA’s estimated levels of retirements are close to
                                          those calculated using the age and service data in fiscal years 1997 and
                                          1998, the difference between the number of potential retirements under
                                          FAA’s assumptions and the projections derived from the age and service
                                          data is greater in later fiscal years.


Table 2.5: Projections of Controller Retirements According to FAA’s Staffing Plan and Those Derived From Age and
Service Data, Fiscal Years 1997-2002
                                                                                              Estimate of
                                                                                               controller Range of differences
                       FAA’s estimate of     Controllers with 31       Controllers     retirements based        between FAA’s
                               controller       years of federal reaching 56 years    on age and service    estimate and other
Fiscal year                  retirements                 service            of age                  time             estimates
1997                                240                     267                      96                   198              27 to 144
1998                                260                     209                    139                    211              49 to 121
1999                                360                     181                    169                    214             146 to 191
2000                                410                     198                    192                    237             173 to 218
2001                                460                     290                    199                    270             170 to 261
2002                                510                     237                    261                    299             211 to 273
Total                              2240                    1382                   1056                    1429
                                          Source: FAA’s Staffing Plan and GAO’s analysis of FAA’s data.



                                          FAA officials said that the accuracy of the agency’s retirement estimates is
                                          not a significant issue because the agency monitors retirements monthly
                                          and can hire more or fewer controllers as needed in future years should its
                                          predictions prove inaccurate. However, while FAA can adjust its hiring
                                          plans annually to ensure that the actual controller workforce remains
                                          equal to the levels specified by its standards, that does not eliminate the
                                          need for accurate projections because of the time needed to fully train a
                                          new controller. FAA tries to hire new controllers about 3 years before the
                                          retirement of those they are intended to replace. As a result, while
                                          adjusting hiring to reflect actual retirements each year can ensure that FAA
                                          has the correct number of controllers in its workforce, this approach will
                                          not ensure that FAA has an adequate number of fully trained controllers.

                                          While we do not question the need for FAA to hire enough controllers to
                                          safely operate our nation’s ATC system in the current budget cycle, we are
                                          concerned that, should future controller retirements more closely follow
                                          the projections derived from FAA’s data on controllers’ age and service



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              time, the agency could hire too many controllers in later years. Should
              fewer controllers retire than FAA has forecast, this would in effect increase
              the cost of running the ATC system because FAA would be paying for both
              its new controllers and those who the agency anticipated would retire but
              did not for several years. Considering the salary of starting controllers and
              the time it takes to fully train them, hiring new controllers before they are
              needed can be costly. For example, FAA’s estimate of future retirees for
              fiscal year 2002 differs from those projected by using age and service data
              by between 211 controllers and 273 controllers. A new controller currently
              makes about $29,000 annually, and once benefits are added, the total cost
              of employing a new controller reaches about $40,000 annually. Because it
              takes about 3 years for a new controller to reach the full performance
              level, the approximate cost of the salary and benefits for a fully trained
              new controller totals about $120,000 for the first 3 years. If actual
              controller retirements in fiscal year 2002 are 211 controllers to 273
              controllers fewer than FAA projects, FAA would spend between
              $25.3 million and $32.8 million between fiscal years 2000 and 2002 to hire
              and train those replacements that would not be needed.

              Conversely, if FAA did not hire enough controllers to replace those who
              retired, those who remained would have to handle more of the workload.
              According to FAA officials, this increased workload could cause an
              unanticipated increase in the use of overtime, and, in extreme cases, lead
              to flight delays caused by the reduction in services at some air traffic
              facilities. According to FAA officials, while such delays would be costly to
              the airlines and their passengers, the delays would not affect flight safety.
              FAA was not able, however, to provide us with the data needed to estimate
              the costs associated with such delays.

              Although officials we interviewed in eight of the nine FAA regions
              anticipated a significant increase in retirements in the next 10 years, they
              disagreed on how soon this increase could occur. While some stated that
              they expected to see a significant increase by fiscal years 2001 or 2002,
              others believed retirements would not increase significantly until fiscal
              year 2005 or later.


              Because air traffic controllers are responsible for the safety of millions of
Conclusions   passengers each year, better estimates by FAA of the future attrition of
              controllers would help ensure that the agency hires and trains an adequate
              workforce. While hiring enough controllers to meet future needs created
              by increases in air traffic and attrition, especially from retirements, is



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                  essential, hiring more controllers than needed would increase the overall
                  cost of running the nation’s ATC system. On the other hand, hiring too few
                  controllers would also be costly, due to an increased use of overtime and
                  flight delays. Predictions of the number of controllers FAA will need in the
                  future depend on many unknown variables, including how the workload of
                  controllers might change as a result of technological advances, policy
                  changes, and the future attrition rate of the current workforce. While there
                  is no way to exactly predict how many controllers will retire in each of the
                  next 15 years, the accuracy of FAA’s methods of forecasting future staffing
                  needs can be improved if FAA uses some key information on the age and
                  service of current controllers.


                  We recommend that the Secretary of Transportation direct the
Recommendation    Administrator of FAA to incorporate actual information on the age, years of
                  service, and retirement eligibility date of current controllers into its
                  projections of future controller retirements.


                  Although FAA officials told us that they have management controls in place
Agency Comments   to adjust for actual attrition, they agreed with our recommendation and
                  plan to take action to better project future controller retirements.




                  Page 39                        GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
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FAA Can Meet Short-Term Staffing Needs
While Developing Plans to Address
Long-Term Needs
                      FAA plans to hire about 1,300 new controllers in fiscal years 1997 through
                      1998 to meet its short-term controller staffing needs. A sufficient number
                      of controller candidates is available to fill these staffing needs. The
                      majority of candidates available are former PATCO members who left the
                      controller workforce during the 1981 strike and could be eligible to retire
                      at the same time as current controllers.

                      In fiscal years 1999 through 2002, FAA plans to hire a large number of new
                      controllers to satisfy its long-term controller staffing needs. Because it is
                      uncertain whether enough controller candidates will be available from the
                      current sources to fill these needs, FAA officials have announced plans to
                      expand the CTI program to include more schools and have reactivated the
                      cooperative education program.1 Furthermore, FAA has also developed
                      plans to revise its new controller training program by requiring all new
                      controller candidates enrolled in the CTI and MARC programs to receive
                      standardized training at the FAA Academy before being assigned to ATC
                      facilities. FAA believes that the revised training program will reduce
                      on-the-job training time and costs at the facility level. However, agency
                      officials have not performed any analyses to determine if the expected
                      savings will offset the increased costs FAA will incur by providing training
                      at the Academy to all newly hired controllers.


                      FAA hired 257 new controllers during fiscal years 1995 through 1996 to
A Sufficient Number   meet its controller staffing needs. One hundred and twelve (or 44 percent)
of Controller         of the new controllers were former PATCO members, 99 (or 39 percent)
Candidates Is         were CTI and MARC graduates, and the remaining 46 (or 18 percent) were
                      cooperative education program graduates, air traffic assistants working at
Available to Fill     the FAA, and former FAA and DOD controllers.2
Short-Term Staffing
                          plans to begin significantly increasing controller hiring by adding 500
Needs                 FAA
                      new controllers in fiscal year 1997 and 800 new controllers in fiscal year
                      1998. The new controllers will consist of former PATCO members, CTI and
                      MARC graduates, cooperative education graduates, and former FAA and DOD
                      controllers. As shown in table 3.1, we found that more than enough such
                      controller candidates are available from these sources to fill FAA’s
                      projected staffing needs for fiscal years 1997 and 1998.



                      1
                       The cooperative education program is a work study program in which students have alternating
                      classroom study and career-related work experience. This program allows students to become familiar
                      with ATC facilities and operations while completing requirements toward a college degree.
                      2
                       Percentages exceed 100 percent because of rounding.



                      Page 40                           GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
                                          Chapter 3
                                          FAA Can Meet Short-Term Staffing Needs
                                          While Developing Plans to Address
                                          Long-Term Needs




Table 3.1: Controller Hiring and
Available Controller Candidates, Fiscal                                                    Controller                                 Controller
Years 1997 and 1998                                                                       candidates                                 candidates
                                                                  Controllers to         available for Controllers to               available for
                                          Source of                  be hired in         hire in fiscal    be hired in              hire in fiscal
                                          candidates            fiscal year 1997            year 1997 fiscal year 1998                 year 1998
                                                                                                                              e
                                          Former                               300                 4483                                     3,983
                                          PATCO members
                                          CTI and MARC                         150                  200a                      e
                                                                                                                                               250b
                                          graduates
                                                                                    c
                                          Cooperative                                         Unknownd                        e
                                                                                                                                        Unknownd
                                          education
                                          graduates
                                                                                    c
                                          Former FAA and                                      Unknownd                        e
                                                                                                                                        Unknownd
                                          DOD
                                          controllers
                                          Total                                500       At least 4,683                  800            At least
                                                                                            candidates                                     4,233
                                                                                                                                      candidates
                                          a
                                            FAA, CTI, and MARC officials estimated that a total of 100 new CTI and MARC graduates will
                                          become controller candidates in fiscal year 1997. The other 100 candidates are CTI and MARC
                                          graduates currently on FAA’s “waiting list” to be hired.
                                          b
                                           FAA, CTI, and MARC officials estimated that a total of 200 new CTI and MARC graduates will
                                          become controller candidates in fiscal year 1998. The other 50 will be CTI and MARC graduates
                                          not hired in fiscal year 1997.
                                          c
                                            FAA officials estimated that about 50 new controllers will be hired during fiscal year 1997 from
                                          the pool of cooperative education graduates and former FAA and DOD controllers.
                                          d
                                           Although the exact total is unknown, FAA believes that many former FAA and DOD controllers
                                          will be available in future years to fill controller vacancies because of the large number of inquires
                                          received from these candidates.
                                          e
                                            FAA officials initially told us that in fiscal year 1998 they plan to hire 500 former PATCO
                                          members, 250 CTI and MARC graduates, and 50 candidates from the pool of cooperative
                                          education graduates and former FAA and DOD controllers. While commenting on a draft of the
                                          report, the officials told us that they are reexamining the number of candidates to be hired from
                                          each of these sources.

                                          Source: Data from FAA and the CTI and MARC programs.




                                          In August 1993, after nearly 12 years, the bar on hiring former PATCO
Rehiring of Former                        members was repealed, and they were allowed to compete for
PATCO Members May                         employment as air traffic controllers within FAA. To date, FAA has hired 112
Only Fill Staffing                        former PATCO members—37 in fiscal year 1995 and 75 in fiscal year 1996.

Needs in the Short
Term


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Long-Term Needs




The age range of former PATCO members hired in fiscal years 1995 and 1996
was 42 to 67, and the average age was 50.2 years.3 According to FAA’s data,
the age range of the over 4,400 former PATCO members eligible for rehire in
fiscal year 1996 was 37 to 68, with the average age being 49.9 years.4 The
majority of the FAA officials interviewed at the headquarters, regional, and
facility levels commented that while former controllers have prior
controller work experience and could be a solution to the controller
staffing problem, they could only be a short-term solution. The officials
commented that many of the former PATCO members already hired or still
eligible to be rehired could retire within a few years after being
reemployed with FAA because their average age is about 50. We could not
verify what the officials told us because FAA has not compiled the data
necessary to determine when current controllers, including former PATCO
members already hired, will become eligible to retire under the different
controller retirement rules.

FAA  officials commented that although they will rely on former PATCO
members in fiscal years 1997 and 1998, and possibly in later years, to fill
controller vacancies, they are uncertain about how long these former
controllers will be able to work as air traffic controllers and when they
will need to be replaced. The officials believe that because of the age
range of the former controllers and the different retirement rules, FAA
could be faced with an even more critical staffing shortage in future years
because many former PATCO members and current controllers may be
eligible to retire at the same time. Nevertheless, the officials told us that
they have not conducted any analyses to determine when the former PATCO
members currently in the controller candidate pool will become eligible
for retirement.




3
 Since some former PATCO controllers were hired prior to 1972, they are not subject to mandatory
retirement rules.
4
 FAA developed its list of eligible PATCO members in 1993 after about 4,500 fired controllers
responded to a job announcement in September 1993.



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                          FAA Can Meet Short-Term Staffing Needs
                          While Developing Plans to Address
                          Long-Term Needs




                          In addition to the 1,300 new controllers FAA plans to hire in fiscal years
FAA Is Expanding Its      1997 and 1998 to meet its short-term staffing needs, FAA plans to hire a
Controller Candidate      large number of new controllers in fiscal years 1999 through 2002 to meet
Pool to Address           its long-term controller staffing needs. To satisfy the agency’s long-term
                          staffing needs, FAA officials said they expect to get some controller
Long-Term Staffing        candidates from current sources. Specifically, the officials commented,
Needs and Is Revising     and CTI and MARC officials agreed, that these schools can produce at least
                          200 graduates per year under their existing programs, which represents
Its Controller Training   about 800 candidates during this 4-year period. PATCO members may also
Program                   provide some controller candidates, and there is high interest from former
                          FAA and DOD controllers to fill controller positions. However, taken
                          together, these current sources may not provide enough controllers after
                          fiscal year 1999.

                          To expand the pool of available controller candidates, FAA headquarters
                          officials announced in January 1997 their plans to expand the CTI program
                          to include 18 additional schools and to reactivate the cooperative
                          education program. According to FAA officials we interviewed, schools
                          currently offering aviation degrees and located near hard-to-staff facilities
                          will be given higher priority. The officials believe this approach will
                          provide a better geographical match between staffing needs at the facility
                          level and the available candidates. The final school selections will be
                          completed by September 1997. Although FAA has decided on the number of
                          schools to include in its expanded program, the officials could not tell us
                          the number of controller candidates they expect to be available from these
                          programs to meet their long-term staffing needs.

                          In addition to expanding the pool of available controller candidates, FAA
                          officials told us that they have revised the agency’s initial controller
                          training program. This revision will be the third major change in FAA’s
                          training program within the past 10 years. Until fiscal year 1990, all new
                          controller candidates were required to receive initial screening and
                          controller training, which included academic and skill-building training, at
                          the Academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In fiscal years 1990 and 1991,
                          FAA began relying on the MARC and CTI schools, respectively, to supplement
                          its training program and to make more controller candidates available. FAA
                          hired CTI and MARC graduates and placed them directly at ATC facilities,
                          bypassing any training at the Academy. The graduates completed their
                          on-the-job training, which consisted of classroom and hands-on
                          instructional training provided by FPL controllers and contractors, at the
                          facilities. In fiscal year 1992, however, FAA stopped providing initial
                          controller training for newly hired controllers at the Academy because of a



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sharp decrease in controller hiring. Nevertheless, the MARC and CTI schools
continued to provide controller training even though only 250 graduates
were hired by FAA from fiscal years 1992 through 1995.

Beginning in fiscal year 1998 under its revised controller training program,
FAA will require all controller candidates enrolled in the CTI and MARC
programs to successfully complete the technical skill-building portion of
initial controller training at the Academy before being assigned to a
facility. The CTI and MARC controller candidates will continue to receive
academic and some technical skill-building training at their schools. Newly
hired controllers, other than ones from the CTI and MARC programs, will
receive academic and technical skill-building training at the Academy.
Former PATCO members, as well as FAA and DOD controllers will continue to
receive refresher training at the Academy. Figure 3.1 compares FAA’s
existing and revised training programs.




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                                         FAA Can Meet Short-Term Staffing Needs
                                         While Developing Plans to Address
                                         Long-Term Needs




Figure 3.1: Comparison of FAA’s Existing and Revised Training Programs




         Candidate           College training                  Academy training                     Facility training


     MARC or CTI
     graduate                Academic and technical                                               On-the-job training
     (existing)


     MARC or CTI
     graduate                     Academic                            Technical                   On-the-job training
     (proposed)


     New controllers                                       Academic and technical                 On-the-job training



     Rehired controllers                                       Refresher technical                On-the-job training


       Not an FAA employee
       FAA employee




                                         Source: FAA’s data.




                                         FAA believes that the revised approach to controller training will reduce
                                         on-the-job training time and costs at the facility level because all new
                                         controllers entering ATC facilities will receive standardized training on the
                                         latest ATC equipment and will be well versed in existing ATC policies,
                                         procedures, and requirements. The officials told us that in the long term,
                                         the Academy can provide the skill-building training more efficiently than
                                         hundreds of individual ATC facilities. Furthermore, the officials said that
                                         they expect graduates of a combined CTI-Academy training program to
                                         spend less time in on-the-job training because the Academy will give them
                                         early experience working with the ATC equipment actually used at the
                                         facilities.



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              Long-Term Needs




              Although FAA headquarters officials commented that revising the
              controller training program will reduce training time and costs at the
              facility level, we did not find nor could FAA provide evidence to support
              this position. While some CTI schools do not have the latest ATC equipment,
              they are able to simulate air traffic conditions. Moreover, FAA could not
              provide evidence that there is any difference between controllers trained
              on the latest ATC equipment and simulators. Although FAA believes that it
              may realize some cost savings from centralizing training at the Academy,
              federal training costs will increase in the short term because FAA will pay
              the expenses for a portion of the training of CTI graduates, who currently
              pay these costs themselves as part of the controller training curriculum.

              Despite the lack of data on controller training costs, FAA still plans to
              revise its training program—without knowing whether the anticipated
              reduction in training time and costs for newly hired controllers will occur
              and offset increased training costs at the Academy. During the 1997
              calendar year, FAA plans to hire CTI and MARC graduates with and without
              Academy training. By monitoring its training costs and following the
              progress of the two groups of new controllers, FAA could determine
              whether the anticipated savings will be realized.


              FAA predicts that it will need to hire about 3,400 new controllers over the
Conclusions   next 6 years. Although a sufficient number of controller candidates are
              available to meet the agency’s short-term staffing needs, the majority of
              the candidates are former PATCO members, who could, if hired, be eligible
              for retirement at the same time as many current controllers. Because FAA
              does not know when these controllers will retire, it is uncertain when they
              will need to be replaced. In addition, it is uncertain whether FAA’s current
              sources for controller candidates can provide a sufficient number of
              candidates to meet its long-term staffing needs. Therefore, FAA’s efforts to
              expand the pool of available candidates could help to address this
              potential problem.

              Although FAA officials believe that revising the existing controller training
              program will reduce on-the-job training time and costs, this change could
              result in FAA incurring training costs currently being paid by controller
              candidates. Also, since FAA has no data to support it assertion that CTI and
              MARC graduates take longer to complete on-the-job training than other
              controller candidates or that centralizing a portion of the training at the
              Academy will reduce training costs, the savings FAA expects to gain from




              Page 46                      GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
                  Chapter 3
                  FAA Can Meet Short-Term Staffing Needs
                  While Developing Plans to Address
                  Long-Term Needs




                  revising its program may not offset the increased training costs at the
                  Academy.


                  We recommend that the Secretary of Transportation direct the
Recommendations   Administrator of FAA to (1) determine, for future planning purposes, when
                  former PATCO members currently in the controller candidate pool will
                  become eligible to retire and would need to be replaced, by evaluating
                  demographic data, such as the former controllers’ age, years spent actually
                  controlling traffic, and years of potential retirement eligibility, and
                  (2) monitor the training costs for CTI and MARC graduates hired in fiscal
                  years 1997 and 1998, who will be trained under the old and new programs,
                  to determine whether the anticipated savings will be realized and whether
                  such savings will offset the increased costs of providing centralized
                  training at the Academy.


                  FAA officials agreed with our recommendations and plan to take action to
Agency Comments   better determine when controllers will retire and the cost of training new
                  controllers.




                  Page 47                      GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
Chapter 4

FAA Has Identified Several Impediments
That Hinder Its Ability to Staff ATC
Facilities at Specified Levels
                      Controller staffing at the national and regional levels closely reflected the
                      levels specified by the staffing standards. However, we identified
                      significant differences between actual staffing and the levels specified by
                      the standards at about half of FAA’s ATC facilities. According to FAA officials,
                      certain circumstances, such as workload factors unique to particular
                      facilities, justify deviations from the standards. In addition, FAA officials
                      believe that some differences are justified on the basis of the professional
                      judgment of facility managers. However, they also believe that some
                      facilities have too many controllers, while others have too few, relative to
                      the workload at the facilities.

                      FAA officials pointed out that at facilities where there are too many or too
                      few controllers, several factors hinder FAA’s ability to alleviate the staffing
                      differences. These impediments include FAA’s practice of waiting until the
                      end of the fiscal year to distribute funds to move controllers, regional
                      officials’ inability to conduct regional hiring of new controllers, and
                      limited hiring in recent years of new controllers to fill vacancies. Although
                      several FAA officials commented that staffing differences can not be totally
                      alleviated, FAA has proposed a variety of initiatives to address existing
                      differences. Because these initiatives are relatively recent, their
                      effectiveness may not be known for several years.


                      As of April 10, 1996, we found that at the national and regional levels, there
Many ATC Facilities   were only slight differences between the actual number of controllers and
Are Not Staffed at    the levels specified by the standards. For example, at the national level,
Specified Levels      the actual controller workforce was 17,163, compared to 17,465 as
                      specified by the staffing standards, representing a difference of less than
                      2 percent. At the regional level, the actual staffing levels for all nine
                      regions were within 5 percent of the levels specified by the standards.

                      In response to our survey, FAA regional and NATCA officials said that a
                      larger number of controllers were needed than the levels specified by the
                      staffing standards. More specifically, FAA officials in six of the nine regions
                      commented that nearly 1,100 additional controllers were needed in their
                      regions. In contrast, FAA’s staffing standards indicated that over 400
                      additional controllers were needed in those regions. FAA officials in the
                      other three regions considered their current staffing levels adequate to
                      meet their needs. According to NATCA representatives, controller staffing
                      needs were even greater at the regional level than those reported by FAA’s
                      regional officials. For example, according to NATCA’s estimates, FAA needs
                      an additional 1,750 controllers in the three regions they represent, while



                      Page 48                    GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
Chapter 4
FAA Has Identified Several Impediments
That Hinder Its Ability to Staff ATC
Facilities at Specified Levels




FAA regional officials estimated that only 670 additional controllers are
needed in those regions.

FAA headquarters officials told us that different staffing needs estimates
exist because FAA regional officials and NATCA representatives use different
approaches to determine the estimates. However, FAA headquarters
officials rely on validated engineered staffing standards.

In responding to our survey, most of the FAA regional officials told us that
they based their estimates on the staffing standards, as well as other data,
such as staffing needs information gathered directly from facility
managers. In addition, NATCA officials reported using data on facility
workloads and projected attrition. We did not verify the validity of the data
or the procedures reported to us by the regional FAA and NATCA officials.

As shown in figure 4.1, staffing levels at 16 of the 24 en route centers were
within 10 percent of the levels specified by the standards. Four of the eight
remaining facilities were staffed at levels greater than 10 percent over the
staffing standards, whereas the other four facilities were staffed at least
10 percent under the standards levels.




Page 49                      GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
                                        Chapter 4
                                        FAA Has Identified Several Impediments
                                        That Hinder Its Ability to Staff ATC
                                        Facilities at Specified Levels




Figure 4.1: Comparison of the Current
Number of Controllers and Staffing                              AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                AAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                     AAAAAAAA
                                                                          AAAAAAAA
                                                                               AAAAAAAA
                                                                                    AAAAAAAA
                                                                                         AAAAAAAA
                                                                                              AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA  AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                  AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                       AAAA
Standards Levels for En Route Centers                           AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                              Within 10% of     AAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                              the    AAAAAAAA
                                                                          AAAAAAAA
                                                                               AAAAAAAA
                                                                                    AAAAAAAA
                                                                                         AAAAAAAA
                                                                                              AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA  AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                  AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                       AAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                              standards         AAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                     AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA      AAAA AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                       AAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                AAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                     AAAAAAAA
                                                                          AAAAAAAA
                                                                               AAAAAAAA
                                                                                    AAAAAAAA
                                                                                         AAAAAAAA
                                                                                              AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA  AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                  AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                       AAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                AAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                     AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA
                                                                                     16  AAAA AAAA AAAA      AAAA AAAA AAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                AAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                     AAAAAAAA
                                                                          AAAAAAAA
                                                                               AAAAAAAA
                                                                                    AAAAAAAA
                                                                                         AAAAAAAA
                                                                                              AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA  AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                  AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                       AAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                AAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                     AAAAAAAA
                                                                          AAAAAAAA
                                                                               AAAAAAAA
                                                                                    AAAAAAAA
                                                                                         AAAAAAAA
                                                                                              AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA  AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                  AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                       AAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                AAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                     AAAAAAAA
                                                                          AAAAAAAA
                                                                                 AAAA
                                                                               AAAA AAAA
                                                                                 AAAA AAAA
                                                                                    AAAA AAAA
                                                                                      AAAA AAAA
                                                                                         AAAA AAAA
                                                                                           AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                               AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                   AAAAAA AAAA
                                                                                                    AAAA      AAAA
                                                                                                             AAAA
                                                                                                              AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                   AAAA
                                                                                                                  AAAA
                                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                        AAAA AA
                                                                AAAA                                               AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                        AAAA
                                                                                                                        AAAAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                     AAAAAAAA
                                                                          AAAAAAAA
                                                                                 AAAA AAAA
                                                                                    AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                         AAAA  AAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA  AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA A AAAAAAAAAAAA AAAA  AA
                                                                               AAAA
                                                                                 AAAA
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                                                                                                    AAAAA    AAAA
                                                                                                              AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA
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                                                                                                                        AAAAAA
                                                                AAAA
                                                                AAAA AAAA
                                                                     AAAA AAAA
                                                                          AAAA AAAA
                                                                                 AAAA
                                                                               AAAA AAAA
                                                                                 AAAA AAAA
                                                                                    AAAA AAAA
                                                                                      AAAA AAAA
                                                                                         AAAA
                                                                                           AAAA
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                                                                                                              AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                        AA AAAA
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                                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                        AAAA
                                                                                                                             AA
                                                                AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAA
                                                                                    AAAA
                                                                                      AAAA
                                                                                         AAAA
                                                                                           AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                               AAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA
                                                                                                    AAAA A AAAA
                                                                                                              AAAAAAAA  AAAAAA
                                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA  AA   10% to 25%
                                                                AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAA
                                                                                    AAAA
                                                                                 AAAA AAAA
                                                                                    AAAA AAAA
                                                                                      AAAA AAAA
                                                                                         AAAA AAAA
                                                                                           AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                               AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA
                                                                                                    AAAA A   AAAA
                                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                                         A AAAA  4
                                                                                                              AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                        AAAA AA
                                                                AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA
                                                                                 AAAA
                                                                                    AAAA
                                                                                      AAAA
                                                                                         AAAA
                                                                                           AAAAAAAA
                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA  A    AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                             AAAA
                                                                                                                   AAAA
                                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                  AAAA
                                                                                                                        AAAA
                                                                                                                        AAAAAA
                                                                                                                       AAAA  AA   under the
                                                                AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAA
                                                                                    AAAA
                                                                                      AAAA
                                                                                         AAAA
                                                                                           AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                               AAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA
                                                                                                    AAAA A   AAAA
                                                                                                              AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                        AAAA
                                                                                                                        AAAAAA
                                                                AAAA
                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                     AAAAAAAA
                                                                          AAAAAAAA
                                                                                 AAAA
                                                                               AAAA AAAA
                                                                                 AAAA AAAA
                                                                                    AAAA AAAA
                                                                                      AAAA AAAA
                                                                                         AAAA
                                                                                           AAAA
                                                                                               AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                               AAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                                    AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA
                                                                                                    AAAA
                                                                                                              AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                         AA AAAA
                                                                                                             AAAA
                                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                  AAAA
                                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                        AAAA
                                                                                                                             AA
                                                                AAAA                                                    AAAAAA    standards
                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                     AAAAAAAA
                                                                          AAAAAAAA
                                                                                 AAAA AAAA
                                                                                    AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                         AAAA
                                                                                            3  AAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA  AAAA
                                                                                                     1AA AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA       AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA  AA
                                                                               AAAA
                                                                                 AAAA
                                                                                    AAAA
                                                                                      AAAA
                                                                                         AAAA
                                                                                           AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                               AAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                 AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA  AAAA
                                                                                                    AAAA
                                                                                                AAAAAAAA  A AAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                                                             AAAA
                                                                                                              AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                        AAAA AA
                                                                                 AAAA AAAA AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                 AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA   AAAA
                                                                                                AAAAAAAA  A
                                                                                                          A AAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                                                              AAAA AAAA AAAA AA
                                                                                 AAAAAAAA
                                                                                 AAAA AAAAAAAA
                                                                                           AAAAAAAA
                                                                                               AAAA
                                                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                AAAAAAAA  AA AAAA
                                                                                                              AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                        AAAAAA
                                                                                                                             AA
                                                                                 AAAA
                                                                                 AAAAAAAA
                                                                                      AAAAAAAA
                                                                                           AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                AAAAAA
                                                                          10% to 25% over                    More than 25%
                                                                          the standards                      over the
                                                                                                             standards


                                        Source: FAA’s data.




                                        In contrast to en route centers, we found that 165 (or 45.5 percent) of the
                                        363 terminal facilities were staffed at levels within 10 percent of the
                                        staffing standards, as shown in figure 4.2. Another 77 terminal facilities (or
                                        21.2 percent) were staffed at levels greater than 10 percent above the
                                        staffing standards, while the remaining 121 facilities (or 33.3 percent) were
                                        staffed more than 10 percent below the staffing standards.




                                        Page 50                           GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
                                        Chapter 4
                                        FAA Has Identified Several Impediments
                                        That Hinder Its Ability to Staff ATC
                                        Facilities at Specified Levels




Figure 4.2: Comparison of the Current
Number of Controllers and Staffing
                                                                   AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA           AAA 10% of the
                                                                                                                  Within
Standards Levels for Terminal                                      AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA           AAA
                                                                   AAAA
                                                                   AAAAAAAA
                                                                        AAAAAAAA
                                                                             AAAAAAAA
                                                                                  AAAAAAAA
                                                                                       AAAAAAAA
                                                                                             AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                  AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                       AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                            AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                 AAAA AAA
                                                                                                                      AAA
Facilities                                                         AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA    standards
                                                                   AAAA
                                                                   AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                        AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA  AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA AAA
                                                                   AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                   AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                   AAAA
                                                                   AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                        AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA  AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA AAA
                                                                   AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                   AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                   AAAA
                                                                   AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                        AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA  AAAA
                                                                                          45.5%   AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA AAA
                                                                   AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                   AAAA
                                                                   AAAAAAAA
                                                                        AAAAAAAA
                                                                             AAAAAAAA
                                                                                  AAAAAAAA
                                                                                       AAAAAAAA
                                                                                             AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                  AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                       AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                            AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                                 AAAAAAA
                                                                                                                      AAA
                                                                   AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                   AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                   AAAA
                                                                 AAAA
                                                                   AAAA AAAA
                                                                      AAAA
                                                                        AAAA AAAA
                                                                           AAAA
                                                                             AAAA AAAA
                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                  AAAA AAAA
                                                                                     AAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                                       AAAA  AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA AAA
                                                                 AAAA
                                                                   AAAA
                                                                      AAAA
                                                                        AAAA
                                                                           AAAA
                                                                             AAAA
                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                  AAAA
                                                                                     AAAA
                                                                                       AAAA
                                                                                          AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                 AAAA
                                                                 AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                      AAAA AAAA AAAA AAAA AAA
                                                                 AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                 AAAA
                                                                 AAAAAAAA
                                                                      AAAAAAAA  AAAA
                                                                           AAAAAAAA  AAAA
                                                                                AAAAAAAA  AAA
                                                                                     AAAAAAAA
                                                                                          AAA
                                                                                           AAAA
                                                                 AAAA AAAA AAAAAAAA
                                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                                     AAAA  AAAA
                                                                                         AAAA
                                                                                          AAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                                     AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA
                                                                                                     AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA
                                                                                                          AAAA
                                                                                                        AAAA AA
                                                                                                          AAAA
                                                                                                        AAAA AA
                                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                                                AAAAAAA
                                                                                                                     AAA
                                                                 AAAA
                                               10% to 25% over AAAA   AAAA AAAA
                                                                       14.6%   AAAA
                                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                                     AAAAAAAA
                                                                                          AAA
                                                                                           AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA
                                                                                                     AAAA
                                                                                                        AAAA
                                                                                                          AAAA
                                                                                                             AAAAAA
                                                                                                                AAAAAAA
                                                                 AAAA AAAA
                                                                      AAAA AAAA
                                                                           AAAAAAAA
                                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                                     AAAA  AAAA
                                                                                         AAAA
                                                                                          AAA   AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                                        AAAA AA      AAA
                                                                                AAAA
                                                                               AAAA
                                                                 AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA    AAAA
                                                                                    AAAA
                                                                                AAAAAAAA  AAA
                                                                                           AAAA
                                                                                         AAAA
                                                                                     AAAAAAAA
                                                                                          AAA
                                                                                           AAAA AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                                     AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA
                                                                                                     AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA
                                                                                                          AAAA
                                                                                                        AAAA AA
                                                                                                          AAAA
                                                                                                        AAAA AA
                                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                                                AAAAAAA
                                                                                                                     AAA
                                               the standards     AAAA AAAA AAAAAAAA
                                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                                     AAAAAAAA
                                                                                          AAA
                                                                                           AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA
                                                                                                     AAAA13.5%
                                                                                                        AAAA
                                                                                                          AAAA
                                                                                                             AA AAAA AAAMore than 25%
                                                                 AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                                     AAAAAAAA
                                                                                          AAA
                                                                                           AAAA AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                                        AAAA AA AAAA
                                                                                                                AAAAAAA
                                                                 AAAA AAAA AAAAAAAA
                                                                                AAAA
                                                                 AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA   AAAA
                                                                                     AAAA
                                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                                           AAAA
                                                                                         AAAA
                                                                                          AAA
                                                                                     AAAAAAAA
                                                                                          AAA AAAA
                                                                                           AAAA
                                                                                                AAAA AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                                        AAAA AA      AAA
                                                                 AAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                                        AAAA AA AAAA AAA
                                                                                                                     AAAunder the
                                                                 AAAAAAAA
                                                                      AAAAAAAA AAAA
                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                                     AAAA
                                                                                     AAAAAAAA
                                                                                          AAA
                                                                                           AAAA AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                                        AAAA AAAAAA
                                                                           AAAAAAAA
                                                                            6.6%    AAAA  AAA
                                                                                           AAAA
                                                                                         AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                                        AAAA AA AAAA
                                                                                                                AAAAAAA
                                                                 AAAAAAAA
                                                                 AAAA AAAAAAAA
                                                                           AAAAAAAA
                                                                               AAAA
                                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                                AAAAAAAA
                                                                                     AAAA
                                                                                           AAAA
                                                                                     AAAAAAAA
                                                                                         AAAA
                                                                                          AAA
                                                                                          AAA
                                                                                           AAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                                     AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA AAAA
                                                                                                     AAAA
                                                                                                          AAAA
                                                                                                        AAAA AAAAAA
                                                                                                          AAAA
                                                                                                             AA
                                                                                                                     AAAstandards
                                                                               AAAA       19.8%                 AAAAAAA
                                                                               AAAAAAAA
                                                                                    AAAAAAAA
                                                                                           AAAA AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                                        AAAA AA      AAA
                                                                                         AAAA
                                                                                           AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA
                                                                                                AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA
                                                                                                     AAAA
                                                                                                        AAAA
                                                                                                          AAAA
                                                                                                             AAAAAA
                                                                                                                AAAAAAA
                                                                               AAAA AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                         AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA   AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA AAAA
                                                                               AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
                                                                                                          AAAA
                                                                                                             AA      AAA
                                                                               AAAA
                                                                               AAAA AAAA
                                                                                    AAAA AAAA
                                                                                         AAAA AAAA
                                                                                              AAAA AAAA
                                                                                                   AAAA AAAA
                                                                                                        AAAA AA
                                                                                                             AA
                                                          More than 25% AAAA   AAAAAAAA
                                                                                    AAAAAAAA
                                                                                         AAAAAAAA
                                                                                              AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                   AAAAAAAA
                                                                                                        AAAAAA
                                                                                                             AA
                                                              over the
                                                              standards                  10% to 25%
                                                                                         under the
                                                                                         standards


                                        Source: FAA’s data.




                                        FAA officials at the headquarters, regional, and facility levels acknowledged
                                        that significant differences exist between actual staffing and the levels
                                        specified by the standards at many terminal facilities. However, they also
                                        noted that the standards are used as a management tool in conjunction
                                        with professional judgment and that certain circumstances could cause
                                        terminal facilities to justifiably deviate from the standards. Circumstances,
                                        such as changes in air traffic levels or a given terminal facility’s capacity,
                                        could increase or decrease the number of controllers needed. For
                                        example, officials in FAA’s Southern Region told us that ongoing airport
                                        improvements, which are expected to be completed in the summer of
                                        1997, have the potential to significantly increase the capacity at a principal
                                        international airport in that region. As a result of these improvements, the
                                        officials commented that controller staffing needs could increase
                                        significantly. Although they could not estimate the exact number of
                                        additional controllers needed because the impact of the increased capacity
                                        will not be known until the airport improvements are completed, they
                                        indicated that the additional staffing needs are not reflected in the latest



                                        Page 51                           GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
                          Chapter 4
                          FAA Has Identified Several Impediments
                          That Hinder Its Ability to Staff ATC
                          Facilities at Specified Levels




                          staffing standards. Circumstances such as these often explain why some
                          facilities are overstaffed or understaffed relative to the staffing standards.
                          However, FAA headquarters officials acknowledged that there are facilities
                          where staffing differences are not justified and pointed out that they are
                          working to address staffing problems.


                          FAA officials at the headquarters, regional, and facility levels identified a
FAA Officials             number of impediments that hinder FAA’s ability to reduce staffing
Identified                differences at facilities where there are too many or too few controllers
Impediments That          relative to their workloads. These impediments include FAA’s practice of
                          not providing funds to move controllers until the end of the fiscal year, a
Contribute to Staffing    practice that delays the prompt movement of controllers to fill vacancies,
Imbalances at ATC         and regional officials’ inability to recruit local candidates to minimize
                          controller transfers among facilities. In addition, regional officials we
Facilities                contacted cited the recent lack of hiring and the need for a continuous
                          source of new controllers to fill vacancies caused by ongoing attrition. The
                          officials also said that other factors, such as their inability to attract
                          controllers to less desirable facilities, quality of life concerns, and
                          unexpected attrition, will continuously impede their ability to alleviate
                          staffing differences.


Reprogramming of Funds    FAA designates a specified amount of funds at the beginning of the fiscal
Delays Controller Moves   year for permanent-change-of-station (PCS) moves to relocate controllers
                          from facility to facility to address staffing needs. Also, these funds are
                          used to fill critical managerial and controller vacancies nationwide and
                          maintain an appropriate level of controllers at ATC facilities. We found that
                          FAA does not distribute the majority of PCS funds until the end of the fiscal
                          year. FAA headquarters officials told us that PCS funds are often used as
                          discretionary funds throughout the fiscal year to supplement shortfalls in
                          the Air Traffic Services (ATS) budget. These funds are reprogrammed to
                          pay for cost increases related to salaries and for the contract tower and
                          weather programs.

                          FAA headquarters officials told us that while PCS moneys are used to
                          supplement cost increases for other ATS operations during the year, there
                          have been sufficient funds by the end of the fiscal year to pay for all
                          requested and approved controller moves. These end-of-year funds are
                          available because other ATS units do not spend all moneys budgeted for
                          their operations. FAA headquarters officials then reprogram the unspent
                          funds to pay for controller moves. For example, as shown in table 4.1, FAA



                          Page 52                      GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
                                            Chapter 4
                                            FAA Has Identified Several Impediments
                                            That Hinder Its Ability to Staff ATC
                                            Facilities at Specified Levels




                                            designated $17.5 million in fiscal year 1996 for PCS moves. Initially, ATS
                                            distributed $3.7 million in PCS funds and reprogrammed $13.8 million to
                                            supplement cost increases for the contract tower and weather programs.
                                            Subsequently, ATS made an additional $19.2 million available for PCS
                                            moves, which was not provided to the FAA regions until the end of the
                                            fiscal year.


Table 4.1: Summary of PCS Funding, Spending, and Moves for Fiscal Years 1993-97 (Dollars in Millions)
                            Funds initially  Initial distribution         PCS funds     Total ATS funds
                       designated for PCS   from appropriated      reprogrammed to         spent for PCS                    PCS controller
Fiscal year                        moves              PCS funds      other ATS units               moves                          moves
1993                              No data                            $8.5                    No data              $21.7                 552
1994                                $21.6                              4.3                      $17.3              14.1                 333
                                            a                                                         b
1995                                 17.5                            14.4                          3.1             39.8                 882
1996                                 17.5                              3.7                       13.8              22.9                 456
                                                                                                                       c
1997                                 15.5                              2.5                       13.0              15.5                 319c
                                            Source: FAA data.
                                            a
                                                $17.5 million earmarked by the Congress.
                                            b
                                                PCS funds held in reserve, distributed at end of fiscal year.
                                            c
                                                Estimate.



                                            According to FAA regional officials we surveyed, the practice of
                                            distributing PCS funds at the end of the fiscal year delays the prompt
                                            transfer of controllers. At facilities where vacancies are not filled
                                            promptly, overtime use may be excessive and some controllers may be
                                            denied opportunities to take leave or attend training. In addition, regional
                                            officials commented that reprogramming PCS funds creates uncertainty
                                            and inhibits the effective allocation of resources within their regions. They
                                            believe that a stable distribution of funds throughout the fiscal year would
                                            help them better address existing staffing differences. A majority of facility
                                            managers we surveyed also expressed concerns about PCS funding levels,
                                            and several commented that the availability of sufficient PCS funds would
                                            help them reduce staffing differences at ATC facilities.

                                            We found that officials at the FAA headquarters, regional, and facility levels
                                            had different views about whether sufficient funds have been available in
                                            past years to pay for all requested PCS moves. While FAA headquarters
                                            officials stated that sufficient funds for requested and approved PCS moves
                                            have been available by the end of the fiscal year, a majority of the regional




                                            Page 53                                GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
                             Chapter 4
                             FAA Has Identified Several Impediments
                             That Hinder Its Ability to Staff ATC
                             Facilities at Specified Levels




                             officials we surveyed said that sufficient PCS funds were often not available
                             for all controller moves throughout the fiscal year. We could not verify
                             what the officials told us because FAA does not maintain information on
                             the number of PCS moves initially requested and subsequently approved at
                             the end of the fiscal year. FAA headquarters officials commented that the
                             practice of using PCS funds to supplement cost increases for ATS operations
                             could create problems in the controller workforce in the future if FAA
                             continues to experience substantial shortfalls in its overall budget.
                             Specifically, the FAA headquarters officials told us that if funds were not
                             made available by the end of a fiscal year, controller moves could not be
                             made, and staffing differences at ATC facilities could increase. FAA
                             headquarters officials noted, however, that the agency’s flexibility to
                             provide PCS funding throughout the fiscal year has been constrained by the
                             necessity to have discretionary funding available to supplement potential
                             budget shortfalls, such as cost increases related to salaries and contract
                             programs.


Lack of Ability to Conduct   Although FAA regional officials have the authority to recruit controller
Regional Hiring Hinders      candidates for facilities in their regions, they do not have the ability to
Alleviation of Staffing      recruit locally due to constraints in hiring on an agencywide basis. While
                             some regional officials have recruited controller staff under certain
Problems at ATC Facilities   circumstances, they must generally select new controllers from the
                             available pool of controller candidates—primarily former PATCO members
                             and graduates from the four CTI schools and MARC—regardless of the
                             candidates’ geographic preferences.

                             FAA officials also told us that the ability to recruit locally would help
                             improve retention because new controllers could be recruited directly
                             from their preferred geographic areas. FAA headquarters officials believe
                             that controllers tend to stay longer in locations more desirable to them,
                             thereby, reducing the potential for controller transfers from facilities with
                             staffing problems.

                             In response to our survey, regional and terminal facility officials also told
                             us that localized hiring would allow them to recruit and retain controllers
                             in areas where hard-to-staff facilities are located. Under current practice, a
                             controller from a small town in the Midwest may be placed at a facility in a
                             large metropolitan area that is difficult to staff. As a result, the controller
                             may later request a transfer to another facility that the controller prefers
                             or resign from FAA; such events may cause a staffing shortage and
                             adversely affect employee morale.



                             Page 54                      GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
                            Chapter 4
                            FAA Has Identified Several Impediments
                            That Hinder Its Ability to Staff ATC
                            Facilities at Specified Levels




Regional Officials Cite a   Officials in all nine of FAA’s regions expressed concerns about the lack of
Lack of Recent Hiring and   recent hiring and the need for a continuous supply of new controllers to
the Need for New            fill vacancies due to transfers, promotions, and retirements at ATC
                            facilities. The majority of regional officials said that an ongoing supply of
Controllers to Address      newly hired controllers would help address staffing shortages that
Staffing Differences        increase the use of overtime and limit opportunities for controllers to take
                            leave or attend training. In response to our survey, some officials raised
                            concerns that the shortages could increase if large numbers of controllers
                            retire in future years. For example, officials in the Great Lakes Region told
                            us that although they hired 40 new controllers in fiscal year 1996, these
                            new controllers were insufficient to replace the controllers lost through
                            ongoing attrition. In addition, officials in the Western-Pacific Region told
                            us that a sufficient supply of new controllers is needed for lower-level
                            facilities, which serve as a staffing source for higher-level ATC facilities.
                            Although the Western-Pacific officials said that they have been working
                            with headquarters officials to acquire more new controllers for their
                            region, they have been unsuccessful because FAA has hired very few new
                            controllers in recent years.


Other Circumstances         Officials at the FAA headquarters, regional, and facility levels commented
Hinder FAA’s Ability to     that certain circumstances will continuously affect their ability to alleviate
Address Staffing Needs      staffing differences. These circumstances include (1) FAA’s inability to
                            attract controllers to facilities located in less desirable—remote or
                            high-cost—areas; (2) quality of life concerns, such as controllers’ desire to
                            live in certain parts of the country; (3) unanticipated attrition resulting
                            from controller retirements, resignations, and deaths; and (4) unexpected
                            changes in air traffic in certain areas, such as the openings and closings of
                            air carrier hubs.


                            FAA headquarters officials cited several initiatives under way at the
FAA Has Several             headquarters, regional, and facility levels to address staffing differences.
Initiatives Under Way       These initiatives include programs to promote regional recruitment and
to Address Staffing         hiring of new controllers for regions with staffing problems, an interim
                            incentive pay program to attract controllers to facilities with long-standing
Differences                 controller staffing problems, and the creation of the Office of Air Traffic
                            Operations (ATO) within FAA headquarters to better coordinate controller
                            transfers and develop an information-based method to more accurately
                            determine controller staffing needs at the facility level.




                            Page 55                      GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
                           Chapter 4
                           FAA Has Identified Several Impediments
                           That Hinder Its Ability to Staff ATC
                           Facilities at Specified Levels




Regional Recruitment and   As part of its initiatives to alleviate staffing problems, FAA is considering
Hiring Would Reduce        actions to increase hiring directly from areas with hard-to-staff facilities,
Staffing Differences       such as expanding the CTI program to include more schools near these
                           facilities and reactivating the cooperative education program. By creating
                           a pool of candidates near hard-to-staff facilities, FAA expects that regions
                           can attract additional new controllers from their preferred geographic
                           areas. Under the proposed initiatives, regional officials will play a greater
                           role in recruiting employees on a more localized basis.

                           In response to our survey, the majority of regional officials we contacted
                           told us that a greater role in local hiring would significantly help reduce
                           controller staffing differences. Moreover, FAA officials told us that
                           localized hiring would reduce the costs for PCS moves and produce a more
                           motivated and satisfied controller workforce.


Interim Incentive Pay      In April 1996, FAA established an interim incentive pay program, similar to
Program Is Designed to     a pay demonstration program implemented in 1989, to attract controllers
Address Staffing           to seven major facilities that have a history of staffing problems.1 This
                           program provides an incentive of 10-percent of the base pay for controllers
Differences                working at these seven facilities: the New York En Route Center, New
                           York TRACON facility, Chicago En Route Center, O’Hare TRACON facility,
                           O’Hare Tower, Bay TRACON facility, and Oakland En Route Center. The
                           interim incentive program is intended to be in effect until fiscal year 1998
                           when a new ATS pay system is expected to be implemented. The new pay
                           system is one of several efforts under FAA’s new personnel reform
                           initiatives, which the agency began implementing in April 1996.2

                           In response to our survey, officials at the Chicago En Route Center
                           commented that the interim incentive pay program has played an
                           important role in attracting new controllers to their facility. For example,
                           over the last year, several new controllers have transferred to the facility,
                           which has helped address staffing problems. FAA headquarters officials
                           told us that they expect the interim program will help recruit and retain
                           controllers at other hard-to-staff facilities until a long-term program is in
                           place, such as the new pay system FAA is developing.



                           1
                            In 1989, FAA implemented the Pay Demonstration Program to recruit and retain experienced
                           controllers at hard-to-staff facilities. Controllers working at the selected facilities were given an
                           additional 20 percent premium pay. This program ended in June 1994 because of budget constraints.
                           2
                            The FAA Administrator was given the authority to reform the agency’s personnel system under the
                           1996 Transportation Appropriations Act.



                           Page 56                            GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
                            Chapter 4
                            FAA Has Identified Several Impediments
                            That Hinder Its Ability to Staff ATC
                            Facilities at Specified Levels




Office of Air Traffic       In early 1996, FAA headquarters created ATO to (1) ensure that facilities are
Operations Oversees         staffed at appropriate levels, (2) verify that newly-hired controllers are
Controller Allocations to   placed where critical staffing vacancies exist, and (3) monitor regional
                            staffing allocations, among other resource allocation functions. ATO
Reduce Staffing             officials work with headquarters, regional, and facility officials to ensure
Differences                 that staffing imbalances do not occur due to controller transfers or
                            reassignments and to verify that new controllers are placed where
                            vacancies exist.

                            For example, ATO officials gather information on staffing requirements and
                            air traffic operations from regional and facility officials to verify that
                            facilities are staffed according to current needs. Using this information,
                            ATO officials have consulted with headquarters officials who are
                            responsible for agencywide resources and budgeting to make
                            recommendations on staffing allocations. As part of this process, ATO
                            officials have monitored controller moves and transfers to ensure that
                            staffing imbalances do not occur because of changes in controller
                            allocations. Agreement between ATO and other headquarters officials must
                            be reached on changes in controller allocations.

                            To better address staffing needs at ATC facilities, ATO has developed and is
                            testing a new computer program to provide a mechanism for air traffic
                            managers in FAA headquarters, regions, and facilities to evaluate the past
                            utilization of controller resources and more effectively project controller
                            staffing requirements. According to ATO officials, the new computer
                            program will provide more accurate facility-level staffing requirements
                            than the staffing standards because it includes operational data on the
                            number of hours controllers have actually performed ATC functions and
                            activities such as training, leave, and administrative duties. ATO officials
                            told us that the new computer program will also provide a standardized
                            method to better project controller staffing needs at individual ATC
                            facilities. They plan to use this program in conjunction with the staffing
                            standards. FAA is currently pilot testing this program at some en route
                            centers, with plans to have it fully operational by the end of fiscal year
                            1997.


                            While FAA officials face several impediments that have hindered the
Conclusions                 alleviation of staffing differences at many terminal facilities, the
                            impediments are not insurmountable. However, FAA’s practice of
                            distributing PCS funds at the end of the fiscal year not only delays
                            controller transfers but could create staffing problems in future years. FAA



                            Page 57                      GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
Chapter 4
FAA Has Identified Several Impediments
That Hinder Its Ability to Staff ATC
Facilities at Specified Levels




officials recognize the potential for these problems but face difficult
choices in their efforts to move controllers to fill critical vacancies, while
maintaining the flexibility to respond to budget shortfalls throughout the
fiscal year. Although FAA’s recent initiatives may reduce some staffing
differences, it is too soon to determine their effectiveness.




Page 58                      GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
Page 59   GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
Appendix I

Explanation of the Model We Used to
Estimate Future Controller Retirements

               To estimate the number of potential controller retirees over the next 15
               years, we developed a computer model that simulates the retirement
               patterns of the current controller workforce. The model uses data from the
               Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the age and federal service time
               of controllers who retired in fiscal years 1992 through 1996 to project the
               future retirement date of current controllers. Because the rate of
               retirements due to disability is not expected to differ significantly over
               time, such retirements were excluded from our analysis.

               The key to our retirement model is the probability of retirement for an age
               and length of service combination, called a “cohort.” To develop the
               probabilities, we used 17 3-year age ranges and 17 3-year length of service
               categories. For example, controllers between the ages of 55 and 57 and
               those with between 34 and 36 years of service were grouped together. For
               each fiscal year from 1992 through 1996, we determined the total number
               of controllers in each age and length of service combination and the
               number of those controllers who had retired.1 The probability of
               retirement for any age and length of service cohort was then calculated by
               simply dividing the total number of retired controllers by the total number
               of controllers in that cohort. The probabilities were then averaged over the
               5 years to arrive at a final retirement probability for each cohort. The
               resulting probabilities can be envisioned as a table with 17 rows for the
               various age ranges and 17 columns for the various categories for length of
               service. This table, called the retirement probability matrix, served as the
               basis for the model we used to project each controller’s retirement.

               The model used FAA’s data on the age and length of service of the 17,019
               controllers who were actively working as controllers or supervisors as of
               October 1, 1996. Each controller’s age and length of service was then
               entered and the probability of the controller’s retirement was determined
               using the retirement probability matrix. For example, a controller between
               the ages of 55 and 57 with 34 to 36 years of service had a probability of
               retirement of 0.19. A uniform random number between 0.00 and 1.00,
               inclusive, was then generated for that controller. In this example, if the
               random number were between 0.00 and 0.19, inclusive, we estimated that
               the controller would retire in fiscal year 1997. If the random number
               exceeded 0.19, we added 1 year to that controller’s age and 1 year to that
               controller’s length of service. This process was repeated for each of the
               17,019 controllers.

               1
                In our analysis, we included those controllers who accepted buyouts, such as the fiscal year 1994
               buyout described in chapter 2. During such buyouts, employees can retire with less service time and at
               a lower age than required for normal retirement. Therefore, because FAA does not plan any future
               buyouts for controllers, our model may slightly overestimate the number of future retirements.



               Page 60                            GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
                                      Appendix I
                                      Explanation of the Model We Used to
                                      Estimate Future Controller Retirements




                                      The process was then continued for those controllers who were not
                                      estimated as having retired in 1997 but with each controller now being 1
                                      year older and with 1 more year of service. As before, the controller’s new
                                      age and new length of service determined the probability that the
                                      controller would retire in that year. Random numbers were then
                                      generated, a retirement decision was made for each of the remaining
                                      controllers, and each controller was either counted as having retired in
                                      1998 or 1 year was again added to both the age and the length of service.
                                      This process was repeated 15 times to represent a 15-year horizon.

                                      Because we were dealing with a process that is of a probablistic nature
                                      (i.e., a controller may or may not have retired in any one year), we
                                      repeated the process 300 times. The results for the 300 iterations were
                                      then averaged to estimate the number of controllers retiring in year 1
                                      through year 15 (representing fiscal years 1997 though 2011).

                                      The following table presents the results of this analysis. It shows the
                                      minimum, average, and maximum number of controllers estimated to
                                      retire during each fiscal year between 1997 and 2011.

Table I.1: Estimated Number of
Controller Retirements Based on Age                                                 Minimum                  Average               Maximum
and Service Time                      Fiscal year                               retirementsa            retirementsb            retirementsc
                                      1997                                                 159                     198                  230
                                      1998                                                 177                     211                  256
                                      1999                                                 168                     214                  249
                                      2000                                                 198                     237                  283
                                      2001                                                 232                     270                  310
                                      2002                                                 260                     299                  343
                                      2003                                                 298                     335                  397
                                      2004                                                 310                     371                  420
                                      2005                                                 349                     410                  463
                                      2006                                                 410                     459                  514
                                      2007                                                 448                     507                  570
                                      2008                                                 512                     565                  636
                                      2009                                                 557                     626                  687
                                      2010                                                 599                     673                  743
                                      2011                                                 645                     724                  790
                                      a
                                          The lowest number of retirees projected by the model’s 300 iterations, by year.
                                      b
                                          The average number of retirees projected by all of the model’s 300 iterations, by year.
                                      c
                                          The greatest number of retirees projected by the model’s 300 iterations, by year.




                                      Page 61                               GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
Appendix II

FAA Regional Offices, Air Traffic Control
Facilities, and NATCA Representatives
Contacted for Our Review
                          Alaskan Region - Air Traffic Division
FAA Regions               Central Region - Air Traffic Division
                          Eastern Region - Air Traffic Division
                          Great Lakes Region - Air Traffic Division
                          New England Region - Air Traffic Division
                          Northwest Mountain Region - Air Traffic Division
                          Southern Region - Air Traffic Division
                          Southwest Region - Air Traffic Division
                          Western-Pacific Region - Air Traffic Division



Air Traffic Control
Facilities

Great Lakes Region        Chicago, Illinois - Air Route Traffic Control Center
                          Green Bay, Wisconsin - Air Traffic Control Tower
                          Minneapolis- St. Paul, Minnesota - Air Traffic Control Tower
                          Youngstown, Ohio - Air Traffic Control Tower
                          Pontiac, Michigan - Air Traffic Control Tower
                          Champaign, Illinois - Air Traffic Control Tower
                          Grand Rapids, Michigan - Air Traffic Control Tower


Southern Region           Miami, Florida - Air Route Traffic Control Center
                          Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida - Air Traffic Control Tower
                          Jacksonville, Florida - Air Traffic Control Tower
                          Chattanooga, Tennessee - Air Traffic Control Tower
                          Daytona Beach, Florida - Air Traffic Control Tower
                          Fayetteville, North Carolina - Air Traffic Control Tower
                          Pensacola, Florida - Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility


Eastern Region            New York City, New York - Air Route Traffic Control Center

National Air Traffic      NATCA Eastern Region1
Controllers Association   NATCA Great Lakes Region
                          NATCA Southern Region
(NATCA)


                          1
                           Telephone interview conducted; completed survey not returned to us.



                          Page 62                           GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
Appendix III

Major Contributors to This Report


                        Nancy A. Boardman
Resources,              Alice G. Feldesman
Community, and          Lynne L. Goldfarb
Economic                Isidro L. Gomez
                        Wanda T. Hawkins
Development Division    Mitchell B. Karpman
                        David A. Rogers
                        Marnie S. Shaul
                        James R. Sweetman, Jr.


                        David K. Hooper
Office of the General
Counsel




(341485)                Page 63                  GAO/RCED-97-84 Refining FAA’s Controller Staffing Process
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