Transportation inspector general lists top management challenges in 2001

Safety, security and better financial management are just some of the issues facing the Department of Transportation in 2001, according to a new report from Transportation Inspector General Kenneth Mead.

Written in response to an October request from the Senate Budget and Governmental Affairs committees and the House Budget and Government Reform committees, the report identified ten items as top-priority concerns for DOT in 2001. The list includes aviation and ground safety, ground and airport infrastructure, transportation and computer security.

"This document is an attempt to be a tour-de-force of the major challenges that the department is facing and I think it is a good road map to the hot issues. [Norman] Mineta just getting confirmed hours ago holds a lot of promise. He had this report at his side during the hearing. He held it up and said he was going to use it," said Mead.

One category on the list, departmental business practices, encompasses most management issues at the agency, including the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act, human resources management and financial management.

"Departmental business practices is one where I would hope there would be change from year to year. These are things that are truly like getting your financial house in order, these are things that you can correct, you can deal with."

In 1999, the General Accounting Office praised Transportation for its "action-oriented and results-driven" fiscal year 2000 performance plan, which set goals and measures for the agency's programs. The plans are required from all federal agencies under the 1993 Results Act. But, FAA's financial management system and air traffic modernization effort were included in the GAO's 2001 high-risk list of federal programs most prone to waste, fraud and abuse. GAO cited the programs for mismanagement in the areas of financial management, information technology and contracting.

According to Mead, it has been more than five years since Congress directed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate more like a business and exempted the agency from procurement rules. Congress also directed the agency to establish a cost accounting system to identify areas that were not cost effective.

With the reauthorization of the agency in April 2000, "they told FAA 'you shall have a Chief Operating Officer,' 'you will establish a management advisory board,' and 'you will establish an air traffic operations committee,'" said Mead. "They also told them to come up with a cost accounting system again."

To date, none of those things has been implemented, Mead said. But the FAA's air traffic services division was recently authorized as a performance-based organization (PBO), a move that should speed management reforms. PBO's give government agencies broad exemptions from federal procurement and personnel rules in exchange for tough performance standards.

The report also cites the need to offset extra costs incurred because of a collective bargaining agreement struck in August 1998 between the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and FAA. Under that agreement, a new pay system for controllers was crafted, requiring an additional $1 billion in funding over five years. FAA's operation costs rose more than $1.2 billion from 1998 to 2000, according to the report.

"When they entered into the controller agreement they said as part of the quid pro quo here, you agree to keep your numbers at 15,000 and also agree to take on some tasks that were formerly done by others," Mead said. That extra productivity was supposed to offset the cost of the new pay system, but instead has contributed to rising operation costs.

Another leg of the collective bargaining agreement expanded the controller-in-charge(CIC) program. CICs are given temporary authority to run air traffic control operations when supervisors are absent. Under the expansion program, more air traffic controllers are certified as CICs and the number of supervisors is cut. Training and certifying the new controllers-in-charge is a safety workforce issue, the report said.

"I think the concept was sound, but it's a question of following through and implementation. This isn't a case of where you say 'hey, can you watch my people for a couple of minutes while I step out of the room?'," said Mead.

Mead said the report is more extensive and comprehensive than those of previous years because of the changes in the administration and in Senate and House committee chairmanships. "We thought it was the right thing for the IG shop to do," he said.

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