- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Federal Aviation Administration’s budget demands continue to grow, even though air traffic has dropped in recent years and the agency’s productivity has significantly declined, according to a damning internal audit.

In a scathing testimony to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Tuesday, Calvin Scovel, III, the Department of Transportation’s inspector general, declared, “In general, FAA is not using businesslike practices to improve its operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness. As a result, FAA has experienced significant increases in its costs without appreciable increases in controller productivity.”

The growth of the agency’s budget has been unchecked, despite the managerial failings and the changes in the marketplace.

Between 1996 and 2012, the FAA’s total budget grew 95 percent, from $8.1 billion to $15.9 billion. During that same period, the agency’s air traffic operations dropped by a fifth. As a result, taxpayers are now paying the FAA nearly twice as much to do only 80 percent of the work they were doing in the 1990s.

Over that same 16-year span, the FAA’s personnel costs, including salary and benefits, skyrocketed from $3.7 billion to $7.3 billion — a 98 percent increase — even though the agency’s total number of full-time workers actually fell 4 percent during that time.

“Since 1995, FAA has completed several personnel and organizational reforms, undergone multiple reorganizations, and implemented measures aimed at improving its internal operations and reducing costs,” Mr. Scovel told Congress.

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“Despite these reforms, the agency’s total budget, operations budget and compensation costs have nearly doubled, while productivity at its network of air traffic facilities has decreased substantially.”

For nearly doubling its cost to taxpayers, while providing less efficient service, the Federal Aviation Administration earns the Golden Hammer award, a distinction given weekly by The Washington Times to examples of questionable spending of taxpayers’ money.

An FAA spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

In a response to a June 2014 audit that questioned the FAA’s increasing budget and declining controller productivity, H. Clayton Foushee, the director of the FAA’s Office of Audit and Evaluation, acknowledged that the agency had failed to focus adequately on expenses and measures of employee productivity.

According to Department of Transportation figures, the FAA’s falling productivity has become even more dramatic in recent years. The global economic recession of 2008 led to a decline in air traffic, but the number of air traffic controllers and other FAA employees remained constant. As a result, between 2008 and 2012, air traffic activities per controller dropped 25 percent, the inspector general noted.

Robert Poole, the director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation, said the inspector general’s report points to three fundamental problems for the agency: “funding, governance and culture.”

“The governance of the FAA Air Traffic Organization is a mess,” Mr. Poole said. “It has to answer to the FAA Administrator, the DOT Secretary, the Office of Management and Budget, the Government Accountability Office, the DOT inspector general … and 535 members of Congress. No management team can function well reporting to that many masters.”

Cost overruns and delays to the implementation of new technologies by the FAA are costing taxpayers billions and may, ultimately, put passenger safety at risk.

Citing one example, Mr. Scovel said that a satellite-based navigation system is currently “about 12 years behind the original schedule and will have a total cost increase of about $1 billion.”

• Drew Johnson can be reached at djohnson@washingtontimes.com.

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