...GAO Recommends Better Enforcement Data

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As Congress looks at the financial picture, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has been investigating whether the warnings, reprimands and fines doled out by the agency for regulatory violations have any effect on flight safety. The conclusion? It doesn't know and neither does the FAA. The GAO looked at 200,000 enforcement actions undertaken between 1993 and 2003 and found that 53 percent were handled with a warning and about 18 percent resulted in no action at all. In the relatively rare cases where a fine is recommended, the FAA's own lawyers often reduce or eliminate the financial penalty if the alleged violator can prove he or she is taking steps to prevent recurrence of the violation. But just how all this paperwork affects the ultimate goal of making the skies safer remains something of a mystery. The GAO found that the FAA "lacks explicit, measurable performance goals for its enforcement actions" and there's no evaluation of the impact on flight safety. Also, FAA field offices don't routinely share their enforcement data with other offices so there's no easy way to get a snapshot of how the system as a whole is working. The GAO is recommending the FAA develop evaluation processes for its enforcement activities and set performance goals while at the same time improving its data-management system. The FAA has agreed with the recommendations.