Staffing, Training, and Funding Issues for FAA's Major Work Forces

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-03-14.

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

GAO                 Testimony

on Delivery         FAA’s   Major      liorr\   Forces
Expected    at
9:30 a.m.    EST
March    14, 1990

                    Statement        of
                    Kenneth    Pl.    Mead
                    Director,        Transportation         Issues
                    Resources,         Community,        and Economic
                    Development         Division

                    Before    the
                    Subcorrmittee   o;1 Aviation
                    House Committee     on Public            kiorks   and Transportation

 GAO/T-RCED-90-42                                                                      GAO Form 160 (12/87)
Mr.   Chairman     and Members of the       Subcommittee:

        We appreciate      the opportunity         to testify     on major work force
issues affecting         FAA operations.         Several times over the past few
years GAO has reported           that FAA needs to improve its hiring             and
training     of three work forces         critical      for air traffic    safety--air
traffic     controllers,      aviation    safety     inspectors,     and maintenance
technicians.         Our testimony     today will       reiterate    some of our
concerns     and discuss      a range of needed management improvements.               In

       --   Although     FAA has made progress        increasing       its work forces,
            particularly      its air traffic      controllers,        staffing     needs
            are still     not being met.      Staffing       shortages       for this year
            will    be about 1,900 experienced          controllers,        500
            inspectors,      and 1,500 maintenance         technicians--assuming          FAA
            completes     its hiring   plans for this year.

       --   Work forces are not being adequately        trained.      FAA has
            developed    a 6-year $406 million   master plan,     called
            "Flight   Plan for Training,   w to modernize     its training
            programs for all its work forces.       However, more than half
            of the 47 projects    in this plan are behind schedule,         some
            by as much as a year, and management attention            is needed to
            get the plan on track.

       --   FAA will    need a predictable           flow of funds to ensure a
            sufficient      and adequately       trained     work force.    Similar    to
            NAS modernization,       significant         increases   in operations
            funding    will   be required     to meet the Agency's        staffing     and
            training    goals.

       I will     now address     the impediments    that     FAA faces in
developing       an adequately      trained and sufficient       work force.

        Although     FAA has made progress,           particularly     in rebuilding    the
controller      work force,       it is far from reaching          its goals.      FAA has
not been able to achieve             overall   hiring      goals for controllers,
inspectors,       and field      maintenance     technicians.        Even if FAA
receives      adequate funding        for hiring      and a sufficient      supply of
qualified      recruits,      it will    take several       years to fully    develop the
performance       skills    of these work forces.

Consressional FPL and Work Force
Goals Are Not Likely To Be Met

         As you know, FAA has sought waivers                   from congressionally
mandated goals for full-performance-level                        controllers        (FPLs) for
each of the past 3 years.                In January 1990, FAA projected                   that it
would not meet the current               mandatory       level    of 12,725 FPLs for this
fiscal      year--falling       short by 1,945.            As we will       discuss     later,
training       developmental      controllers         is lengthy       and costly.          In
addition,        the FAA Academy wash-out             rate is about 40 percent                for
controller         candidates;    following      graduation,         FAA loses another              15
percent      for those assigned          to terminals        and 35 percent          for those
assigned       to air route traffic          control       centers.       These factors,            in
our view, are major reasons why FAA has been having difficulty
meeting      its FPL staffing         goals.     Also, FAA believes              that inadequate
funds have hurt its efforts                to correct       imbalances        that exist
between lower and higher              level   facilities.           Because of insufficient
funding      the agency has deferred            (for as long as 18 to 24 months,
according        to FAA) moving controllers              who have been successful                 in
lower-level         facilities    to higher-level,           more complex facilities.
Consequently,           FAA has been unable         to capitalize         on the experience
and expertise           to improve staffing         and performance           at these

        Furthermore,      although    the overall    controller    work force,
including       FPLs, is expected       to increase,   FAA projects     that it will
not be able to meet its year-end              mandate of 17,495.       FAA does not
believe     it needs to meet this mandate because the growth that was
forecast      for aviation      was lower than expected.        FAA's stated     reasoi
raises     a question     as to the total      number of controllers       needed and
where they should be located.              Moreover,    FAA is still    updating    its
standards       for determining     the number of controllers        needed, and
could not tell        us when its work would be completed.

        To FAA's credit,     it has corrected        one problem that we
previously    reported:    it has reduced its lengthy           process      for hiring
controllers     which had taken up to 11.5 months--to              about 45 days.
In addition,     FAA safety     statistics       on near midair    collisions,
operational     errors,  and pilot        errors   declined  each year since 1987.

         As we reported           in April      1989, controllers          and supervisors
cited      staffing       shortages     and inadequate          training,     among several
aspects of today's              air traffic        control     system, that hindered       their
ability       to maintain        the safety        of the air traffic         system.l
Furthermore,           in a subsequent          report,    we ranked the best and worst
facilities,           based on the controllers*              responses      to the six major
issues covered in our survey,                     namely work load, staffing,
overtime,         training,      morale,      and safety.2          In response to the latter
report,       FAA directed          its facility        managers to develop corrective
action       plans.       FAA headquarters          recently      received    these plans from
its regions,           and we intend        to review FAA's actions.

      We believe one of the most significant   issues on the horizon,
which could have a major impact on the controller     work force,

IAviation     Safety:    Serious       Problems Continue           to Trouble the Air
Traffic     Control   Work Force       (GAO/RCED-89-112,           Apr. 21, 1989).
2Aviation Safetv:         Facilitv     Rankins     of Controller        Survev    Responses
(GAO/RCED-90-39,         Nov. 21,     1989).

involves     plans to consolidate             I88 terminal       radar approach
facilities       into at least         23 area control        facilities.        The
Subcommittee        may recall       the problems       experienced        by FAA in
consolidating        its Flight        Service    Stations,      which was a considerably
more modest proposal.               We are pleased that the FAA Administrator
plans to revisit          this    issue.      Facility      consolidation      and
integration        of technology        not only involves           funding   considerations
but also has the potential               of affecting        controller      work force size,
training      requirements,         and morale.        Consequently,        FAA needs to
thoroughly       consider      these matters         in its decision-making          process.

FAA Will     Not Meet Its
Insoector     Staffing  Goal

      Even with new hires this year and newt, FAA expects to fall
255 short of the 3,055 inspectors       it needs to do the job, according
to current   staffing    standards.   FAA started    fiscal     year 1990 with
2,311 inspectors      and estimates that it will     end fiscal     years 1990
and 1991 with 2,575 and 2,800 inspectors,         respectively.

       Moreover,    the current        shortage      of inspectors      is compounded by
the regional     imbalance        of inspectors       with particular      specialties--
too many in some regions            and too few in others.            According     to
Flight   Standards     officials,       the "push" to hire 300 inspectors                in
fiscal   year 1989-- most of whom were hired during                   the last guarter--
forced FAA to meet the overall               staffing     goal and to ignore        regional
requirements     for inspectors         with specialties        in operations       or

       And, the staffing     shortage   may worsen for two reasons.
First,    FM may not hire all of the 300 inspectors         it intends    to
bring on board this year because of a training          backlog.     Second,
the staffing      standard  FAA uses to determine   the size of FAA's
inspector    work    force needs updating   to take into account major new
inspection    requirements,     such as mhands on" inspections      for aging
aircraft and surveillance      of foreign     aircraft    repair stations.   FAA
plans to develop new inspector       staffing      models by 1992 and believes
that the new standard     will  show a need for more inspectors.

         In addition,        an emerging issue could affect                the size and
role of the inspector            work force.        FAA is developing           a concept,
called     "self-audit,"       to better    utilize       the airlines'         quality
assurance        programs to ensure that safety               regulations      governing
pilots     and maintenance        are followed.          This concept is based on the
premise that air carriers            are primarily          responsible       for ensuring
that their        operations     are safe and in compliance               with FAA
regulations.           It is too early to say how the self audit concept
will    evolve and what the specifics               will    entail.       We intend     to
closely      follow      the development     of self audits.

FAA Will Not Meet Its
Technician Staffinq   Goal

        At the start      of fiscal    year 1990, FAA had 8,687 technicians
to maintain       FAA's network of communications,            radar,    navigational,
and computer equipment.             However, according      to its staffing
standards,       FAA needs 10,266 technicians          to perform     the work load,
resulting      in a shortage      of 1,579.     By the end of this year, FAA
hopes to reduce this shortage             to 1,466 technicians.          FAA does not,
however,     include    in its staffing      standard    certain     maintenance      now
performed      by contract     on specific     systems.

       Over the last 2 years,        the size of FAA's technician          staff     has
remained relatively        constant.      It had expected to need fewer
technicians    because the new systems will             require less maintenance.
However, because of implementation              delays,    FM is left   with a
technician    shortage.      This problem is even more difficult            to solve
because many in the maintenance             work force are approaching
retirement.     Thirty-eight       percent    of the work force--nearly          2,700
technicians    and engineers--are         51 years or older.       FM expects        to
lose 575 technicians  this year,               650 in     fiscal    year     1991,   and 1,650
in fiscal  years 1992 to 1995.

       According      to FAA's assessment,          the attrition         already
experienced       has forced field        organizations          to take unusual measures
to ensure that safety          is not compromised.               Overtime use is rapidly
increasing      from $3.3 million         in fiscal       year 1986 to an estimated
$5.2 million        in fiscal    year 1989.       Staff       engineers     and technical
support     personnel     are being assigned           routine     maintenance     duties,
technicians       from lower-activity         locations         are being temporarily
detailed     to assist      at high-activity        locations,         and watch coverage
is being reduced at low-criticality                  facilities.

        As we previously        reported,      hiring    and training          technicians      is
a matter      requiring     attention.3        FAA has not hired the technicians
it needs.        It now seems to have little             choice,        at least     in the
short run, but to contract              out for certain          field     maintenance
services.        FAA proposed,       in 1986, a pilot          project      to compare the
quality      and cost of contractor           maintained       facilities        with its own
maintenance        efforts.      FAA testified        in support        of the project
during     the budget hearings          for fiscal      years 1987, 1988, and 1989.
Congress did not fund the project,                  in part,       because it believed
system maintenance          was a federal        responsibility.            However, Congress
permitted       FAA to "augmentn the existing              field       maintenance       work
force by contractual           means if such contracting                is determined        to be
"essential       for the safe operation            of the air traffic            control

      To cope with the shortage      of technicians--especially      until    new
hires are ready to assume the workload--         FAA has basically   developed
a three-pronged   plan.    FAA proposes to (1) hire a total        of about
2,350 technicians    for fiscal   years 1991 to 1993, (2) contract         to

3FAA Staffins:         Recruitment,     Hirina.  and Initial               Trainins  of
Safety-Related        Personnel     (GAO/RCED-88-189,    Sept.             2, 1988).
augment its own staff,        at a total     estimated     cost of $170 million
from fiscal     years 1991 to 1995, and (3) contract               maintenance
services    for specific     systems,     at a total    estimated      cost of about
$320 million     from fiscal     years 1991 to 1995. It is uncertain            how
FAA will    proceed beyond 1995.          We recently    began a review to
examine how FAA determines          future   technician      requirements.

Rrwram To Attract   and Retain
Staff At Certain  Facilities

         Faced with the staffing           problems      just described,          FAA is
attempting      to alleviate         the situation.         To make hard-to-staff
facilities      more attractive,         the Department          of Transportation          and
FAA implemented          a pay demonstration         project,        which became effective
June 18, 1989.           Under the project,         FAA pays a retention             allowance
 (up to 20 percent         of an employee's         base pay) to employees working
in safety-related          positions     at selected        facilities.          Currently,     the
project     covers 2,209 employees,             supervisors,         and managers at 22
facilities      in four areas--Los          Angeles,       Oakland,       Chicago,    and New
York.      Seventy-three       percent     of the covered employees are air
traffic     controllers;        7 percent     are aviation          safety    inspectors;      and
20 percent      are airway facilities            maintenance         technicians.         FAA has
paid about $10 million             in retention      allowances         since the program's


        In addition   to staffing     shortages,      serious     shortfalls       exist    in
the training       FM provides    its air traffic        controllers,        aviation
safety    inspectors,    and maintenance      technicians.          Such problems        are
not new.      To address them, FAA started          a 6-year plan to streamline
work force hiring,       update training      curricula,       and modernize
training     delivery   systems.     But this plan is slipping--30               of 47

projects are already           behind     schedule,      ranging     from   a few months        to
about a year.

       Air   Traffic     Controllers

         As we reported        in Harch 1989, FPLs were receiving                   only limited
amounts of the training              they needed to maintain              and upgrade their
knowledge       and skills.'l        According       to the National         Transportation
Safety     Board, deficiencies              in controller     training       contributed       to
loss of life         in midair      collisions       in Independence,         Missouri,       on
January 20, 1987, and Orlando,                  Florida,     on Way 1, 1987.            In the
Safety     Board's     judgement,         improved radar training            for controllers
would have prevented             these accidents.          We also reported           that on-
the-job     training      provided       to developmental         controllers       at field
facilities       was not standardized             and that FAA had not evaluated
training      that contractors           provided      at air route traffic           control

         If controller     field     training    is to be effective              and responsive
to the agency's        needs, FAA must ensure that controllers                       receive
needed training        and that this training             is consistent          and uniform.
We made several        recommendations        to improve field            training.        For
FPLs, we recommended last year that refresher                        training       be enhanced,
possibly     by increasing       the use of videotape             and of computer-based
instruction.         Our field     training     work validated           some of the
training     concerns     expressed       by controllers        in our 1988 survey.            FAA
generally     agreed with our controller              field     training
recommendations        and is now implementing              them.

4FAA Trainins:          Continued ImDrovements            Needed in FAA's Controller
Field Trainins         ProqraK (GAO/RCED-89-83,            Mar. 29, 1989).
        Aviation       Safetv     Insoectors

        In September 1988, we reported                      that FAA had a backlog              of
initial      training      for aviation           safety      inspectors      and predicted          that
backlogs       would continue          because the FAA Academy could train                        only a
limited      number     of inspectors           each year.5           We later      reported      that
safety     inspectors        at the journeyman-level                  were also not receiving
the training          needed to effectively               perform their         jobs.6        For
example,       airworthiness         inspectors          (those who perform            airline
maintenance         checks) received            less than half of the training                    that
FAA said they needed during                    1988.      FAA attributed          its inability           to
provide      recurrent       training        to a shortage           of instructors          who could
develop the technical               courses needed to upgrade inspectors'                         skills.
In January 1990 the FAA Administrator                           announced major steps to
upgrade the instructor               staff      at the Academy.            He said the changes
will    result      in additional          instructor         training     and grade increases.
According        to FAA, top instructors                had been reluctant             to go to the
Academy because of pay and rank downgrades.

        We also questioned         the validity        of some of the recurrent
flight    training      that FAA was providing           to operations         inspectors.
FAA provided       some operations          inspectors     with expensive          flight
training      while there was no apparent              need to do so.          For example,
in one region,        some inspectors          performed    few, if any, flight            check
duties    but still       received     the semi-annual        flight    training.         FAA has
an opportunity        to save scarce dollars            by re-directing          its effort     to
provide     recurrent       flight   training      only to those who need it to
perform     their   jobs.

5FAA Staffins:            Recruitment,    Hirins.  and Initial     Trainina  of
Safety-Related           Personnel     (GAO/RCED-88-189,     Sept. 2, 1988).
'Aviation       Trainins:    FAA Aviation Safetv Insoectors                         Are Not
Receivins       Needed Training   (GAO/RCED-89-168,  Sept.                        14, 1989).

      Maintenance       Technicians

         Providing       needed training        to FAA maintenance     technicians         is
also a problem facing               FAA that will     probably  worsen as training
demands increase.              FAA officials      have expressed     concern about their
ability       to handle training          during FAA's system modernization
efforts.         According      to FAA, enrollments        of maintenance       technicians
at the FAA Academy increased                 from 4,185 in fiscal      year 1987 to
7,257 in fiscal            year 1989 and will       grow to about 7,600 in fiscal
year 1991.           However,     while training      demands are increasing,           Academy
in-house        instructor      levels    are not increasing,       and funding        for
contract        instructors       is decreasing.        These resource     limitations
affect      the training        of both new hire and on-board           technicians.

        The demand for training     new hires will    outstrip  the Academy's
capacity     in fiscal   years 1991 and 1992.      FAA plans to hire about
910 new technicians        next year and about 810 in 1992, but the
Academy can accommodate only 640 new hires per year.              FAA is
planning     to meet the excess demand by using computer-based
instruction.        However, the specific    type of computer-based
instruction     that FAA wants to use has been found ineffective.
Consequently,       some new hires may not receive     adequate training.

        Furthermore,       the existing    maintenance     work force is not now
receiving       all the training       it needs.     Such training        is critical
because it allows          less experienced      maintenance      technicians       to
qualify      for positions      being vacated by more experienced             technicians
who are retiring.            Unmet needs for on-board        technicians      will     carry
over to fiscal         year 1991, thus compounding         the strain       on training
resources.         Delays in training      would lengthen       the 3- to 5-year
period     it takes to reach the full          performance      level.

       FAA Trainins       Initiatives

        Our previous        reviews      found deficiencies        in FAA's recruitment,
hiring,      and training        of its safety-related         work forces,         including
problems      in the delivery          and oversight      of field      training      for
controllers.          Similarly,       FAA recognized       in 1988 that it needed a
comprehensive,         long-term       plan to deal with widespread              problems,
such as poor training              system design,      outmoded and inadequate
training      delivery      systems,       and a fragmented      training       organization.
Such a plan needed to apply not only to the controller                             work force
but also to other work forces.                  Accordingly,       FAA established          an
Office     of Training        and Higher Education         and developed         an agency-
wide 6-year,         $406 million        Fliuht  Plan for Training           encompassing      47
projects      within     eight major areas.          These changes are planned
through      1994.

         Progress     in implementing      this plan has been slow--30                 of the 47
projects      are already      behind schedule,      some by as much as a year.
Insufficient        funding,      due to competing     priorities         within     FAA, and
poor planning         are major reasons for the slippages.                   Through fiscal
year 1990, FAA plans to spend $48 million,                    or about 54 percent,           of
the $89 million          needed to keep the plan on track.                  Such slippages
are affecting         FAA's ability     to meet certain         staffing       goals,    such as
FPL levels       for controllers.         For example,      delays       in making
increased      use of simulation        for controller        training       necessitate     the
continued      use of lengthy        and costly   on-the-job         training      for

        In addition      to funding     difficulties,         certain    aspects of FAA's
planning      were probably     unrealistic          and the projects      themselves   were
not prioritized.           For example, we were told that the planned                 $169
million     project    to establish       several      regional     radar training
centers    may be cancelled.          In addition,         the lack of priorities       for
projects      and the interrelated          nature of some projects           are having a
ripple    effect    causing    schedule       delays.      For example,      FAA cannot
begin to improve its curricula                  for training      maintenance      technicians
and for on-the-job         training       until     it completes       a study of the
technicians@        job tasks,     because changes will             be based on the
results    of that study --which           is already       a year behind schedule.             In
our view, this program is off track because FM tried                            to do too
much with     too few dollars         and without        setting     its priorities.
Setting    priorities      would help FAA better              target    its limited      funding
to the most deserving           projects.


        If FAA is to meet the challenge            of ensuring    a sufficient       and
adequately     trained    work force,     it will     need a predictable       and
sufficient     flow of funds.        The need for significant         increases      in
operations     funding    is not dissimilar        to that of the modernization
effort.      During the past 10 years,          funding   for FM operations          has
grown substantially--increasing             from $2.4 billion      in fiscal      year
1981 to $3.8 billion         in fiscal    year 1990.      This year's      operations
request    is for $4.1 billion         and is expected      to grow to $5.8 billion
by fiscal     year 1995.

        The Administration           is proposing      that the Aviation          Trust Fund
be used to cover 85 percent               of FAA's total        budget in fiscal         year
1991 and thereafter.              FAA estimates      that 85 percent         of its
expenditures         are on behalf      of private       users and that 15 percent            are
on behalf       of governmental        and public      interests.       The Administration
has also proposed increases               in user fees, to include             increasing     the
passenger       ticket     tax from 8 to 10 percent.              The revenues       from
increased       user fees would be used to cover a greater                    portion     of
FAA's operations           budget.     Unlike   other     parts    of FAA's budget,
operations        expenses are not totally           paid from the Trust Fund.
Historically,          only about 25 percent         of FAA's operating           expenses
have been financed            from the Trust      Fund, but this        figure     would
increase      to 70 percent        for fiscal     year 1991 if the Administration's

proposal       is adopted.       (See attachment         I for     operational       funding

       FAA’s   projected       Trust Fund expenditures         for fiscal    year 1991
will   be about $6 billion          and will    include   greater    coverage of
operations.        However, the Fund's beginning           balance     in fiscal    year
1991 will     be approximately         $14.5 billion     and its uncommitted,         or
so-called     wsurplus,"       $7.6 billion.       Tax receipts    projected      to be
received     during     fiscal    year 1991 at current       tax rates would
supplement      these balances        by an additional     $4.2 billion.         These
projected     balances       appear more than adequate to cover Trust Fund
expenditures       without     a tax increase      at this time--whether         or not
the Trust Fund covers a greater              portion    of operations.

        In concept,   the Trust Fund would               provide    a more reliable     and
stable    source of funding    for operation               expenses,   and would
eliminate     the need for FAA to compete                for funding    with programs
financed    by the General Fund.         It also          would be consistent       with the
principle     that users bear their        share         of the costs of operating        the
aviation    system.     We have testified        to        this effect   on numerous

        Unfortunately,         the severity        of the General Fund deficit               and
the use of various           trust     fund balances        to mask that deficit            have
made the concept underlying                 trust    funds quite different            in reality.
In fact,      for the fiscal         year just ended, the reported               total      deficit
of $152 billion          represented        the combination        of a deficit         of $275
billion     in the General Fund, offset                 by trust      fund surpluses        of
$123 billion.          In the current          budget environment,           the reality       is
that any drawdown of the Aviation                    Trust Fund balance can only be
accomplished        by increasing         the deficit       or at the expense of other
federal     programs.        As the Comptroller            General recently        testified        on
the social       security      payroll      tax proposal,       until     the deficit       problem
is solved,       the government's           capacity     to achieve vital        policy      goals
and address the nation's               unmet needs will          be hamstrung.          This is as
true for aviation  as it is for the             future    of the   Social     Security
Fund and other federal  programs.

        To summarize,       although     FAA has made progress         in trying     to
develop adequately          trained     work forces,    we are concerned         that the
scope and cost of this undertaking               is still     not fully     appreciated.
To maintain      a high level        of air safety     requires     not only a
commitment     to fund increases           in the controller,       inspector,      and
field-maintenance          work forces but also a concurrent             commitment to
adequately     train     these work forces to do their            jobs.     FAA's senior
management needs to sustain              its commitment to address emerging
human resource        issues,     as well as initiatives         started    previously,
particularly       its Flisht       Plan for Traininq.

       This concludes      our statement.    I will        be pleased       to address
the   Subcommittee's      questions  at this time.

ATTACHMENT           I                                                ATTACHMENT   I

                                       gAA ODerations     Fundinq
                                        (Dollars  in Millions)

        Fiscal                      TNSt                  General    Operations
          Year                       Fund                 Treasury      Total
         1980                     $ 325                   $1,865       $2,190
          1981                        525                  1,837         2,362
          1982                        810                  1,491         2,301
          1983                     1,277                   1,320         2,597
          1984                           0                 2,587         2,587
          1985                     1,110                   1,589         2,699
          1986                        427                  2,298         2,725
          1987                        621                  2,338         2,959
          1988                        826                  2,358         3,184
          1989                        471                  2,974         3,445
          1990                        807                  3,016         3,824a
          1991b                    2,846                   1,242         4,088
          1992b                    3,067                   1,379         4,446
          1993b                    3,435                   1,443         4,878
          1994b                    3,894                   1,436         5,330
          1995b                    4,296                   1,507         5,803

Source:         FM

aDoes     not        add   due   to   rounding.