Thursday, November 04, 2010

Why It Matters

I’ve been trying to think of a way to show people the enormity of the loss of Congressman James Oberstar in this week’s election. It isn’t easy. I consider the man a giant of Congress and his accomplishments are many. Specifically to my audience, Congressman Oberstar knew more about aviation than anybody in Congress. I remember watching him speak at some event and, without notes, go through aviation’s entire history and how the Federal government had played a role in it. He was amazing.

But most of government isn’t amazing. It’s just one detail piled upon another as many different forces/parties/entities try to figure out a course of action to take and a way to govern. I’ve chosen to show you one of those details. You can skim through this file now or later. It doesn’t matter when. It’s a .pdf file and it’s 36 pages long. I’ll pull out some pertinent (to me) excerpts for you to read if you want to wait until later to read it.

But first and foremost -- for today’s purposes -- this is the most important detail.

”At the request of the Chairmen of the House Committee on Transportation Infrastructure and Subcommittee on Aviation, we examined FAA’s plans for implementing ADS-B. ”

That request would be from one James L. Oberstar. It matters, who is Chairman of a Committee.


”Specifically, our objectives were to (1) examine key risks
to FAA’s successful implementation of ADS-B and (2) assess the strengths and weaknesses of FAA’s contracting approach.”

You may safely assume that “contracting” is a Republican-inspired initiative. Without a savvy Democratic Chairman, the Inspector General wouldn’t be asked to look into it.

”The greatest risks to successfully implementing ADS-B are airspace users’ reluctance to purchase and install new avionics for their aircraft and FAA’s ability to define requirements for the more advanced capabilities.”

Interpretation: A lot of people don’t want or need it and the FAA isn’t even sure how it’s going to work.

”Most new capabilities and benefits, such as enhancing airspace capacity, rely on “ADS-B In” and the display of information in the cockpit.2 However requirements and costs for ADS-B In may not be mature for at least 2 years. ”

Interpretation: The FAA has no idea how much it will cost. By the way, “enhancing airspace capacity” doesn’t do anybody much good without more runways.

”Specifically, while FAA’s contract includes controls and
analytical tools to measure progress with cost and schedule baselines, FAA did not conduct a comprehensive financial analysis before deciding that a service-based contract would save the Government more money than the traditional method of owning and operating the system. ”

There’s a boatload of information in that blurb. You might want to read it again. Interpretation: The decision to contract out this system wasn’t driven by “analysis”. It was driven by the Republican ideology that business can always do a better job of things than the government. Just ask AIG. Paying attention? The Federal Government won’t “own” the “backbone of NextGen”. The FAA won’t own the system that our entire National Airspace System is built upon.

”FAA is in a difficult position with ADS-B because it is managing the parallel development and implementation of the air and ground components of a new satellite-based technology. Implementing ADS-B is a high-risk, complex undertaking that will require coordinated, billion-dollar investments from FAA and industry over the next decade. ”

Does anybody remember the Advanced Automation System? Enough said.

”...a lack of clearly defined benefits for enhancing capacity and reducing delays.”

You can’t read that enough times. If I thought I wouldn’t lose you, I’d print it out a hundred times. Speaking of which, let’s cut to the end before I do lose you.

”FAA does not yet have the in-house expertise to effectively oversee ADS-B. ”

That’s in bold in the report. It ought to be that way in your brain.

”Further, much of the ADS-B infrastructure will be embedded in commercial equipment and networks. FAA knowledge may diminish once contractors assume sole responsibility for operating and maintaining the satellite-based system. The key personnel skills that are needed for effective ADS-B oversight include telecommunications, signal processing, and knowledge of the GPS constellation. However, FAA has not assessed the in-house skills it needs to oversee the ADS-B ground infrastructure. Without this information, we are concerned that FAA could find itself in the unenviable position of knowing very little about a system that is expected to be the foundation of NextGen. ”

I hope you find that as stunning as I do. If we were on Facebook it would be an !!!!OMG!!!! moment.

The FAA is giving the keys to the kingdom to private entities -- contractors. You’ve heard me mention “institutional memory” before. This will be like the United States Army having to ask Haliburton how to build a base. There will be no institutional memory. The contractor will own the equipment, the software and the expertise. In other words, they’ll “own” the FAA.

Can you remember how we started? The man that asked for this report will no longer be Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation Infrastructure. He won’t even be on the Committee. He won’t even be in Congress.

This guy will.

That’s why it matters.

(Thanks to the reader that sent me the report. You know who you are.)

I know that hardly anyone will bother but I’m going to mention it anyway. If you believe in public service, take 20 minutes to listen to Congressman Oberstar’s concession speech. The story about the light keeper and the story about Mr. Oberstar’s father are priceless. The man is a class act and that’s the way he went out.

Don Brown
November 4, 2010

P.S. I see that Harris’ stock is up. HRS


David Pardo said...

Is Mica always this painful to watch?

Don Brown said...

Nope. Sometimes, he's hilarious.

Don Brown