Tuesday, August 17, 2010

FAA -- Failing Again and Again

I noticed the link to the GAO report in the Fierce Government IT story from the previous blog. In a moment of weakness, I clicked on it. It’s no wonder I spend so much time on politics and photography now.

”For example, FAA did not fully address human factors considerations in developing the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) system, which FAA plans to complete by 2010. According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), air traffic controllers involved in initial operations capabilities tests at an air traffic control center in Salt Lake City have come across significant problems with using the system. According to NATCA, controllers have found the new formats cumbersome, confusing, and difficult to navigate, thus indicating that FAA did not adequately involve those who operate the system (controllers) in the early phases of system development.”

”FAA officials within the En Route Automation Modernization office agreed with NATCA’s views on the new system and added that the simulation capabilities of its Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where the agency conducts human factors testing, were not robust enough to capture all of the problems subsequently identified by controllers.”

They agree with NATCA now, whereas, before (during W’s reign), they couldn’t agree with NATCA because NATCA was cut out of the loop.

”Similarly, as noted in a report we issued in 2005, FAA’s failure to provide adequate attention to human factors issues when implementing the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System resulted in schedule slips and a significant cost increase of $500 million.”

Yes, it does sound depressingly familiar.

”However, once contracts are awarded, contractors are supposed to follow the contract specifications, which can include human factors system performance requirements. HFREG (Human Factors Research and Engineering Group) officials told us that in the past they collaborated with program office human factors coordinators to assess outside vendors’ compliance with human factors issues; they found that the contractors were not in compliance in all aspects, particularly human factors.”

Contract compliance isn’t a strong suit in the Federal government. The contractors like it that way.

”Furthermore, FAA’s post-implementation review of the Advanced Technologies and Oceanic Procedures system concluded that FAA and the contractors who developed the system did not, from a human factors perspective, develop the system to meet FAA’s needs. The post-implementation review recommended that for future systems, FAA should ensure that it articulates to contractors in unambiguous terms the human factors-related characteristics that the proposed system must meet.”

Oh, they will. In “unambiguous terms”. Of course, nobody will be able to enforce those terms. See above.

”FAA has not prioritized consistently staffing the top two leadership positions within FAA that are formally responsible for human factors R&D. Specifically, the Chief Systems Engineer for Human Factors position has been vacant since the previous chief retired in January 2010. Moreover, FAA did not assign a permanent program director of HFREG for 16 months, from January 2009 until FAA filled the position in June 2010.”

Nobody is really interested in providing the controllers the equipment they need. They are interested in selling the equipment they have. And if you’ll leave key positions vacant, you have effectively put the contractors in charge. In other words, it’s the same old stuff it’s been for the last 30 years. It’s just a different day.

I’m going back to taking pictures.

Don Brown
August 16, 2010


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