Serious Shortcomings in FAA's Training Program Must Be Remedied

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-06-06.

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

                     United States General Accounthg OfRce           / q / A4 “-


For Release             Serious   Shortcomings   in FAA’s Training
On Delivery             Program Must be Remedied      ’
Expected at
IO:00 a.m. EDT
June 6, 1990

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

                        Before the
                        Subcommittee on Investigations
                        and Oversight
                        Committee on Public Works and
                        United States House of Representatives


CkC/I-RCED-9&gfj                                                           GAO Form 160 (12187)
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

We appreciate           the opportunity                 to appear before                    the Subcommittee                to
discuss      the training            of the Federal                 Aviation           Administration's                    (FAA)
safety-related              work forces,          primarily              air      traffic       controllers,
aviation      safety         inspectors,          and maintenance                    technicians.                A well-
trained      FAA staff         is absolutely               essential              to having         an efficient
and safely-functioning                   air     traffic          control          system and to ensure the
safety      of the flying            public.

You specifically              asked us to evaluate                       FAA's progress                 in
implementing          its     training          modernization                  effort--Flight                Plan for
Training.        In addition             to assessing               the Flight              Plan,       we identified
two other       issues--       contract          training           and class           scheduling             and
attendance--       which impact                FAA's ability              to effectively                 train       its
workforce.         Our testimony                today      completes             the work you requested.
Our specific          findings        are as follows:

         -- FAA's training               needs are extensive                       and are probably
             greater         today    than at any other                    time       in the agency's
             history.          FAA has one of the largest                             and most diverse
             training         programs          in the federal                  government.              Last year
             alone,         about 28,000 employees attended                                 training.            Moreover,
             the influx          of large         numbers of new staff,                         coupled          with      the

  1)         modernization            of the air               traffic          system and the new

   requirements        for    safety       inspection,          dictates       an even
   greater      need for      new training           curricula         and for     improving
   the way in which training                   is provided         to FAA's safety-
   related      work forces.

-- FAA's Flight        Plan for        Training,        a $406 million,            6-year,
   training      modernization           program,       has made little            progress.
   This plan has received                limited      funding       and, although            only
   in its      second year,       is already          being      significantly         revised
   in part      because some projects                were not well           thought        out and
   may not be needed.

-- FAA internal        appraisals         and Department            of Transportation
   (DOT) Inspector           General      audits      have found cases in which,
   because FAA did not evaluate                    training        contracts       promptly,
   specifications           and contractor           performance           were not
   adequate,       and scarce         training       dollars      were wasted.

-- FAA is not fully           using      its     existing       training       capability
   because it       has not established               clear      accountability             for
   class      attendance.       Faced with           training       backlogs       and tight
   budgets,      the agency can ill               afford      having       large   numbers of
   llno-showsVt and failing             to enroll           employees       in scheduled
The remainder           of this       statement         discusses        our findings           in more
detail,      and our recommendations                    on what needs to be done to help
get FAA's training            program back on track.


To address       its     safety-related              work force        training       needs,           FAA has
instituted       one of the largest                  and most diverse             training        programs       of
any federal       agency.          FAA's centralized                training       budget was
$133 million           in fiscal       year 1989 to train                about 28,000           employees,
including      controllers,            technicians,              inspectors,       engineers,            and
support      personnel.           This diversified                training      encompasses such
areas as flight           training          on the latest           aircraft,       air      traffic
equipment      maintenance,            and clerical              and human relations              training.

Moreover,      each of FAA’s            safety-related              work forces           face major
changes that       will      further         heighten          the need to obtain             new skills
and improve current               skills.           More than 5,000 new controllers                        are
being      developed      to control          air     traffic.         The entire          17,000 member
controller      work force,            including         its     new controllers,             will      have to
be trained      to operate           new systems,              which are coming on line                  as part
of FAA's modernization                 effort,        as well       as receive        refresher
training      on existing          systems.

The inspector              work force           is faced with         applying          new inspection
methods that           will        be required        to assess aging                aircraft--a
significant           challenge          since     about 50 percent              of the commercial                  jet
transport          fleet      is 15 years          old or older.              The inspectors               will     also
have to certify               new aircraft           that       are being       introduced          into      the
growing       fleet        and to oversee            the industry's             implementation              of self-
audit     programs.               Furthermore,        FAA plans         to hire         about      300 new
inspectors          who will          require      initial        training.

FAA's maintenance                  technician       work force          faces        similar       needs.          FAA
plans     to hire          about      2,900 technicians              through         fiscal      year      1993.
These new hires,                  as well      as FAA's existing              work force           of about
8,700,      will      require        training       on how to maintain                 new systems that
are coming on line                  through       modernization            efforts       and through              the
introduction           of new technologies.

FAA's training              programs          have another         dimension          that     distinguishes
them from most other                   agencies:            Deficiencies         in training            safety-
related       work forces            can be life            threatening.             The National
Transportation              Safety       Board has linked             deficiencies             in training              to
impairments           in air        traffic       safety.        For example,            according          to the
Safety      Board,         deficiencies           in controller            training          contributed           to
loss     of life       in 1987 midair              collisions         in Independence,               Missouri,
and Orlando,           Florida.             In the Safety          Board's      judgment,           improved
radar     training          for     controllers        would have prevented                    these

I will      now discuss             several          factors        impeding            FAA's ability                    to
provide         sufficient          and adequate             training.


In early         1988, FAA recognized                     that      it    needed a comprehensive,
long-term         plan       for    all         of its    work forces              to meet its                recruitment,
hiring,         and training              needs.         Accordingly,              FAA developed                    an
agencywide,          6-year,             $406 million            Fliaht         Plan for             Traininq            (Flight
Plan),      which encompasses 47 projects                                within         eight         major         areas that
involve         designing          new training            curricula,              recruiting                and screening
applicants         better,          and establishing                 better            ties         with     academia and
industry.          Although              this     plan    covered         many areas of training,                                 it
did not cover certain                       aspects,       such as the current                             process          for
determining          training             needs and problems                    with      class            scheduling             and
attendance.           FAA started                 to implement            its     plan          in' July           1988.

To date,         Flight       Plan progress               has been slow--31                         of the 47 projects
are behind         schedule,              some by as much as a year.                                 These delays                 are
affecting         FAA's ability                 to meet certain                 staffing             goals,         such as
those     for     experienced              controllers.              For example,                    in January               1990,
FAA projected             that      it     would not meet the congressionally                                        mandated
goal of having             12,725 experienced                     controllers                 for     this         fiscal
year--falling             short          by 1,945.         This shortfall                     will     occur,            in part,
because delays             in making increased                     use of simulation                         for     controller

training        necessitate            heavy reliance           on lengthy           and costly             on-the-
job training             for    controllers.

Several        factors         are responsible          for     the Flight           Plan being             off-
track.         Shortcomings            in FAA's planning              and budgeting             process            and
in their        contract         oversight         and specifications                are major           reasons
for      the slippages.               Some Flight       Plan projects               were poorly             planned
and may not be needed.                        For example,          a planned        $169 million              project
intended        to establish            several      regional         radar       training        centers            for
controllers          was not started              because FAA did not fully                       consider            the
project's        high        cost.      FAA is now exploring                    alternatives          to meet its
need at a lower                cost    as part      of its      effort          to reevaluate            all
projects        and revise            the Flight      Plan.          FAA expects            to complete              its
revision       of the Flight             Plan by the end of this                     month.

FAA also did not have contingency                            plans       to respond          to alternative
funding       levels.           For example,         the project           milestones           for      FAA's
Flight      Plan were developed                  anticipating            that     the Plan would receive
its   entire        fiscal       year 1989 funding              requirement           of about           $20
million.         When only            about     $6 million       was made available                   for      the
Flight      Plan,       FAA had to determine                 how to target            its      limited         funds
because it          did not have priorities                   for     allocating            funds to the most
deserving        projects.

Furthermore,          because of the interrelated                         nature      of these         projects,
the*schedule          delays          are creating         a ripple        effect.           To illustrate,

FAA has a project               to improve              its        curricula      for      training         maintenance
technicians        and for         on-the-job                 training.          This project             cannot         begin
until       FAA updates         maintenance              technicians'             job tasks.              Since the
updating       project        is already               a year behind             schedule,             FAA cannot
begin     improving       its      training             curricula.              FAA is therefore                  left
without       a blueprint          for    designing                 the training           it    needs for
maintenance        technicians            and will                 have to rely         on outdated

In some cases,           the Flight              Plan is also              experiencing                schedule
delays       due to poor contractor                      performance.              During          the initial
phase of one key project,                        for     example,          the contractor                was to
research       procedures          currently             used by others              for        screening
potential       employees and to develop                             a screening          proposal          for      FAA's
use.      But this       project         is a year behind                      schedule         because FAA did
not determine          that     the contractor's                      methodology           was illogical                and
technically        inaccurate            until         after         the contractor'             had completed             a
7-month study.            FAA therefore                  spent        almost      $650,000             on this       study,
much of which will              have to be redone.

I would now like              to discuss           the two other                 issues         that     we identified
during      our assessment           of the flight                    plan--contract              training           and
class     scheduling          and attendance.


Inadequate          contract           performance              extends          beyond Flight           Plan
projects.          Recent GAO, FAA, and DOT Inspector                                      General       reports       cited
inadequate         contractor             performance,                 unclear         contract      specifications,
and untimely             FAA evaluation                 of contractor                 performance        regarding
contracts         to provide            current          air        traffic       field      training.

As we reported               last      year,      air     traffic             field     managers were
concerned         about the quality                     of contractor                 training      pr0vided.l            For
example,         since     contract            instructors              were not familiar                with    current
procedures         and equipment,                 some controllers                     were trained        to use
air   traffic       procedures             that     were outdated                     and some received            poor
instruction.             To address             these          concerns,          we recommended that               FAA
evaluate         contractor           performance.

Two other         studies,           subsequent           to our report,                  support     the need for
better      FAA evaluation               of contractor                  performance.              In one study,           FAA
found that         contract            administration                 was inadequate              to ensure that
air   traffic        field          training       was standardized                     and that      contractor
claims      were verified.                 In another                study,       the DOT's Inspector
General         found that           contract       specifications                     were inadequate           and
instructors         lacked           relevant,          recent          controller           experience         at the
Chicago O'Hare airport                     terminal.                 Some instructors               had never

IFAA Trainins:             Continued Imnrovements Needed in FAA's Controller
Field Trainina            Proaram (GAO/RCED-89-83, Mar. 29, 1989).

    controlled           traffic       at a large         facility            like      O'Hare.          Of the three
    instructors            with     O'Hare experience,                 the most recent                 experience
    dated back to 1973.                    In addition,           during         the first             10 months of the
    contract,           the contractor            instructed           only      1 of 28 classes                     and FAA
    certified           only      1 of 10 contract              instructors             as qualified.                   In this
    instance,           FAA incurred            about $600,000           in contract               cost6 while
    training        the instructors               and basically            still         providing             its      own

    FAA is beginning               to come to grips               with     its        contract         deficiencies.
    It   has,     for      example,       drafted       contract         administration                  procedures               to
    improve oversight,                 but these procedure6                    have yet to be implemented.
    Despite       these problems,               FAA plans         to expand contract                     training            to
    other       terminal       facilities,            such as its          New York terminal                         radar
    approach control                facility.


    According        to an FAA internal                 appraisal,            the agency has no policy
    for holding           managers accountable                   for   the use of training                           slots    and
    confusion        exists        about where the responsibility                               lies     for         ensuring
    training.           The report           stated     that,      during            fiscal      year 1989, about
    3,500 training             slots      were not filled              through           its     quota allocation
    process,       while       at the same time some students                                 attended     classes            who
    were not formally                enrolled.         FAA agreed that                   some slots             may have


    been filled           with     non-enrolled             students,          but believed             that         the
    agency was not using                  as much training                  as it      could provide.                     For
    example,          the Academy--which              is FAA's major provider                          of centralized
    training         --canceled         54 classes          due to insufficient                  enrollments;
    these classes              could have accommodated 850 students.                                    When asked who
    was accountable               for    ensuring      that         the training             slots      were used,
    training          providers         thought      that     it         was the Service              Organizations'
    responsibility--             that     is Air Traffic,                  Flight      Standards,          and Airway
    Facilities;           meanwhile,         the Service                 Organizations          thought         it        was the
    regions'          role,     and the regions              thought          that     accountability                 fell      to
    field      office         managers.

    The importance              of filling        these       seats         is illustrated              in the
    following           example.         In fiscal          year 1989, FAA hired                      300 inspectors
    to meet its           staffing        goal,     but did not have either                           the instructors
    or the space to train                  them.       As a result,                  new inspectors             had to
    wait     until       they could be slotted                     for     training.           Of those         scheduled
    for     training,          there    were 41 no-shows and FAA had to cancel                                        two
    classes       due to low enrollments.                      In April              1990 testimony             before          the
    House Transportation                  Subcommittee,              FAA officials              stated         that        about
    one-half         of the 300 inspectors                  have been trained.                        Since FAA
    intends       to hire        another      300 inspectors                 this      year,     it     faces         a
    similar       dilemma.

    Even if       all     training        slots     are effectively                  used,      FAA does not have
    the capability              to adequately          meet its             training       needs.         For
example,       the demand for               training         newly hired               maintenance
technicians           will      outstrip      the Academy's capacity                          in fiscal             years
1991 and 1992 when plans                     call      for    hiring           about 900 and 800 new
technicians,           respectively.                The Academy can accommodate only                                     640
new hires       each year.             Although         less     desirable              than academy
classroom       training,           FAA plans          to meet the excess demand by using
computer-based               instruction.

Another      problem          is FAA's inability               to account               for    training             funds.
FAA could       not tell          us the total           funds          it     required        and used for
training       its     work forces.             Only centrally                  provided        training                is
identified           separately        in FAA's budget                  request.           Training           provided
by FAA regions,               by contractors            at air          traffic         facilities,            or as
part   of some National               Airspace          System (NAS) Plan projects                              is not
identified           separately        in the budget.                   To illustrate,                one NAS Plan
computer       system project               included         costs           of $4.2 million            for         a
contractor           to develop       and provide             initial           training        to FAA's
maintenance           technicians.


Although       FAA is aware of the many problems                                  it    faces with            its
training,       implementation               of the programs                   designed       to fix       the
deficiencies           has been slow and ineffective.                                  FAA's training               program
must continue           to grow to meet the needs of an expanding                                         work force
an,d the introduction                of new equipment                and systems.                However,                about

65 percent         of the projects                   that     make up FAA's training
modernization            program are behind                       schedule,      and FAA did not have
contingency         plans      to respond to alternative                           funding          levels.            We
believe       establishing            criteria              to determine         its      project       priorities
will     help    ensure that            limited             funds are directed               to the most
important        projects           within     FAA's modernization                       program.          Such
criteria,        at a minimum, should                        include       benefit-cost             ratios,         mission
needs,       and safety        considerations.

As part       of its       efforts       to provide                adequate      training,           FAA      has
contracted         for     controller.         field          training        in some locations                   and
plans       to expand the contracts                         to other       facilities.             However,
inadequate        FAA contract               administration                and oversight             resulted           in
unclear       contract        specification                  and inadequate              contractor
performance.             As a result,                FAA incurred           greater        costs      than
necessary        to train           contractor              instructors.

Finally,        existing       training              resources         are not being           fully          utilized
because it         is not clear              who is accountable                  for      ensuring         that
training        slots      are used.           A clear            designation            of this
responsibility             is needed.

To address        these       concerns,              we recommend that              the Secretary                 of
Transportation             direct      the Administrator                    of FAA to


    c           .

                          --   develop criteria              for determining             priorities       for   its
                               training          modernization          program,     F light      Plan for      T raining;

                          --   develop performance                  standards      for    controller       field      training
                               contracts          with    measurable tasks           and m ilestones,           and
                               implement them before                  expanding contracted               instruction:          and

                          --   clearly          designate     management accountability                   for   ensuring
                               the use of training                  slots.

                    In summary, M r. Chairman, FAA's training                            programs are not fully
                    meeting the needs of existing                     employees and FAA seems to be making
                    very lim ited    progress            in its      training      modernization          efforts.        In
                    view of the extraordinary                  training         needs that      FAA faces,         as well       as
                    the link    between deficiencies                   in safety-related              work force      training
                    and impairments             in air    traffic       safety,     FAA management must begin to
                    resolve    these issues now.                  Continuing       to delay will          only increase
                    the potential         for     safety-related             problems to occur.

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