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Summary and Comments

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Category: 

Shipping_and_Transportation

Date: 

1998-02-10 23:28:16

Subject: 

GAO Says FAA Is Way Behind

  Link:

http://www.house.gov/science/willemssen_02-4.html

Comment: 

This testimony by Joel Willemssen of the General Accounting Office reveals the vulnerability of the FAA.

This is his testimony before the Subcommittee on Technology, Committee on Science, and the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, House of Representatives (Feb 4).

Notice that the report says that the FAA has not completed the inventory and assessment phases. The California White Paper says that awareness is 1% of a y2k repair task, inventory is 1%, and assessment is 5%. This means that well over 90% of the FAA's task is still ahead of it. No wonder its self-imposed deadline date for completing the initial testing (40% to 70% of a repair) is November, 1999. But what if the test fails?

This provacative language is extraordinary in a government report to a government body:

"FAA's organization responsible for air traffic control reported that 34 of the 100 mission-critical systems it initially assessed were likely to result in catastrophic failure if they were not renovated."

* * * * * * *

FAA Must Act Quickly to Prevent Systems Failures

Hundreds of critical FAA computer systems make its operations possible; without these specialized systems, FAA could not effectively control air traffic, target airlines for inspection, or provide up-to-date weather conditions to pilots and air traffic controllers. However, many of these systems could fail to perform as needed when using dates after 1999, unless proper date-related calculations can be assured. The implications of FAA's not meeting this immovable deadline are enormous and could affect hundreds of thousands of people through customer inconvenience, increased airline costs, grounded or delayed flights, or degraded levels of safety.

FAA's progress in making its systems ready for the year 2000 has been too slow. At its current pace, it will not make it in time. The agency has been severely behind schedule in completing basic awareness activities, including establishing a program manager with responsibility for its Year 2000 program and issuing a final, overall Year 2000 strategy. Further, FAA does not know the extent of its Year 2000 problem because it has not completed key assessment activities. Specifically, it has yet to analyze the impact of its systems' not being Year 2000 compliant, inventory and assess all of its systems for date dependencies, make final its plans for addressing any identified date dependencies, or develop plans for continued operations in case systems are not corrected in time. Until these activities are completed, FAA cannot know the extent to which it can trust its systems to operate safely using dates beyond 1999.

Delays in completing awareness and assessment activities also leave FAA little time for critical renovation, validation, and implementation activities--the final three phases in an effective Year 2000 program. With under 2 years left, FAA is quickly running out of time, making contingency planning even more critical. . . .

Integral to executing each of FAA's programs are extensive information processing and communications technologies. For example, each of FAA's 20 en route air traffic control facilities, which control aircraft at the higher altitudes between airports, depends on about 50 interrelated computer systems to safely guide and direct aircraft. Similarly, each of FAA's almost 100 flight standards offices, responsible for inspecting and certifying various sectors of the aviation industry, is supported by over 30 mission-related safety database and analysis systems. Because of the complexity of these systems supporting FAA's mission, many of them are unique to FAA, not off-the-shelf systems that could be readily maintained by vendors. . . .

Yet FAA was late in designating a Year 2000 program manager and its initial program manager recently retired. FAA has not yet selected a permanent replacement and needs to fill this position as soon as possible. Further, its strategic plan--defining program management responsibilities and providing an approach to addressing the millennium challenge--has yet to be made final. A draft of this plan was provided to the Administrator on December 1, 1997, and we understand that it is now being revised. Until an official agencywide strategy is available, FAA's executive management will not have the approved road map they need for achieving Year 2000 compliance. The lack of a formal agencywide strategy also means that FAA's program manager position lacks the authority to enforce Year 2000 policies. As a result, each line of business within the agency will have to decide if, when, and how to address its Year 2000 conversion, irrespective of agency priorities and standards. . . .

On the basis of our discussions with FAA personnel, it is clear that FAA's ability to ensure the safety of the National Airspace System and to avoid the grounding of planes could be compromised if systems are not changed. FAA's organization responsible for air traffic control reported that 34 of the 100 mission-critical systems it initially assessed were likely to result in catastrophic failure if they were not renovated. FAA plans to renovate all of these systems. As of January 30, 1998, assessments of another 140 mission-critical air traffic control systems were continuing. . . .

External organizations are also concerned about the impact of FAA's Year 2000 status on their operations. FAA recently met with representatives of airlines, aircraft manufacturers, airports, fuel suppliers, telecommunications providers, and industry associations to discuss the Year 2000 issue. At this meeting participants raised the concern that their own Year 2000 compliance would be irrelevant if FAA were not compliant because of the many system interdependencies. Airline representatives further explained that flights could not even get off the ground on January 1, 2000, unless FAA was substantially Year 2000 compliant--and that extended delays would be an economic disaster. Because of these types of concerns, FAA has now agreed to meet regularly with industry representatives to coordinate the safety and technical implications of shared data and interfaces. . . .

FAA has started to renovate some of the systems it has already assessed. However, because of the agency's delays in completing its awareness and assessment activities, time is running out for FAA to renovate all of its systems, validate these conversions or replacements, and implement its converted or replaced alternatives.

FAA's delays are further magnified by the agency's poor history in delivering promised system capabilities on time and within budget, which we have reported on in the past. FAA's weaknesses in managing software acquisition will also hamper its renovation, validation, and implementation efforts. . . .

Officials of both FAA and the Department of Transportation generally agreed with our findings, conclusions, and recommendations. FAA's CIO stated that FAA recognizes the importance of addressing the Year 2000 problem and plans to implement our recommendations.

Link: 

http://www.house.gov/science/willemssen_02-4.html

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