By Mary Grady, Contributing editor
The FAA needs to improve its management practices to ensure that the NextGen air traffic system is implemented without further cost overruns and delays, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released this week. The GAO reviewed 30 major programs involved in NextGen and found that half of them were behind schedule and costs had increased from initial estimates by a total of $4.2 billion. The delays ranged from two months to more than 14 years behind schedule, and averaged four years. The FAA didn't comment on whether or not it agreed with the GAO analysis, the GAO said, but the FAA did send a statement to AVweb. "The GAO report includes air traffic programs that are not part of the NextGen portfolio," FAA Public Affairs wrote in an email. "However, from 2004 - 2011, the FAA was 0.8 percent under budget across all major system acquisitions."
The GAO report cited four ongoing challenges that it says have led to cost increases and schedule delays: (1) additional or unanticipated system requirements, (2) insufficient stakeholder involvement (such as controllers' input) throughout system development, (3) underestimating the complexity of software development, and (4) unanticipated events including funding shortfalls or work stoppages. "These challenges, if they persist, will impede the implementation of NextGen," said the GAO. To do a better job estimating the cost and completion dates for major acquisitions, the report said, the FAA should require cost and schedule risk analysis, independent cost estimates and integrated master schedules. In its statement to AVweb, the FAA said it has already adopted a majority of the GAO's cost estimation best practices, "and looks forward to reviewing the GAO's recently released scheduling best practices."