OIG Report Indicates The FAA Has No Clear Path For Achieving NextGen Goals


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OIG Report Indicates The FAA Has No Clear Path For Achieving NextGen Goals

By Shane Nolan

June 19, 2011 - The DOTís Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued a report on the Federal Aviation Administrationís (FAA) development and implementation of the System Wide Information Management (SWIM) program.

SWIM is a key program in the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) that, as envisioned, will streamline data communications among all NextGen air traffic systems. 

OIG found that although the FAA is still in the early stages of developing SWIM, the Agency has already increased the costs for the programís first of three segments by more than $100 million and delayed its completion by two years. Further cost increases and delays remain likely because of a lack of clear lines of accountability for overseeing and managing the program.

The FAA concurred with all six of OIGís recommendations for improving the management of SWIM and reducing risks. The Federal Aviation Administrationís (FAA) successful transition to its Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) depends on developing and implementing the SWIM program.  

The FAA plans to spend about $284 million through 2015 to implement the first of three stages of SWIM. As envisioned, SWIM will form the basis for a secure network that manages and shares information more efficiently among all air traffic systems that will comprise NextGen.  Key benefits expected from SWIM are streamlined data communications and real-time information that will improve air traffic management, enhance airspace capacity, reduce flight delays, and decrease costs for FAA and aviation users. 

OIG initiated this audit because the FAA identified SWIM as a key transformational program. The audit objectives were to determine the development and implementation status of SWIM and assess the risks facing SWIMís successful deployment.  Undefined requirements among the seven programs that will serve as implementation platforms for SWIM are driving cost up and schedule delays. Five of the program offices have not finalized their own system requirements, much less their plans to implement SWIM capabilities.  

For example, SWIM is intended to enable data sharing with the En Route Automation Modernization Program (ERAM)óthe primary NextGen tool for processing flight data in the National Airspace System (NAS). However, the FAA does not plan to fully integrate SWIM capabilities with ERAM for another 4 years. The FAA also has yet to develop an implementation strategy for the two remaining SWIM segments and is considering other alternatives given the cost and schedule slips experienced to date. 


SWIM will likely remain at risk of further cost increases and schedule delays because the FAA has not established clear lines of accountability for overseeing how SWIM is developed and managed. Rather than pursue an overarching SWIM infrastructure, FAA decided it could best achieve SWIMís diverse benefits and save development costs by delegating significant responsibility and funding to the seven NAS program offices to design and implement SWIM.  

However, in doing so, the FAA also left the SWIM Program Office with no authority over the other program officesí costs, schedules, and requirements related to SWIM. Each program office determines when and how SWIM software will be upgraded on its system with little or no input from the SWIM Program Office. Because the SWIM Program Office is not filling the typical role of setting long-term programmatic priorities, it will be difficult for the FAA to develop an end-state transition strategy for SWIM and ensure that SWIM aligns with NextGen goals such as reducing aviation costs.

Without a consistent vision of SWIMís requirements and clearly defined program priorities, the true cost and timeline to deploy SWIM and the realization of expected benefits is unknown. OIGís recommendations to FAA focus on actions needed to effectively implement SWIM and address program challenges and risks.

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