House Science Committee Leaders Urge Implementation of Aeronautics Report Recommendations

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Wednesday, December 13, 2006

WASHINGTON - The Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Science Committee and the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics today called on the Administration to implement the recommendations in a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the challenges of creating a new air traffic control system, known as the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NGATS).

The report, requested in spring 2005 by Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Ranking Member Bart Gordon (D-TN), and Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (R-CA) and Ranking Member Mark Udall (D-CO), examined the challenges involved in the design and implementation of NGATS by the program's seven partner agencies: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and the Departments of Defense, Transportation, Commerce, and Homeland Security.  Together, these agencies comprise the Joint Program Development Office (JPDO).

Echoing the findings of today's GAO report, a panel of expert witnesses at a March Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee hearing on NGATS testified that collaboration among the JPDO agencies will be the key to the program's ultimate success. 

In its report, titled Next Generation Air Transportation System: Progress and Challenges Associated with the Transformation of the National Airspace System, GAO recommends better coordination among the JPDO agencies, including having the agencies sign memoranda of understanding that clearly delineate each partner's role and responsibilities; recommends a formal assessment of the technical and contract management expertise that will be required by FAA to move forward on NGATS; and urges the agencies to identify other potential stakeholders who should be involved in the NGATS development process.

Boehlert said, "Steady progress on the NGATS is essential if the nation is to have safe and economically viable air travel.  We need to take advantage of the latest technology.  That progress will be impossible to achieve if the relevant agencies don't work together more effectively and methodically.  This report makes important recommendations that, while they may sound technical and bureaucratic, will determine whether the nation has a working air transportation system in the future.  Congress needs to exercise more persistent oversight to ensure that they are implemented."

"Given the concerns raised by the GAO, Congress will need to take a hard look at whether the JPDO as currently structured will have the authority and resources needed to successfully transform the nation's airspace system," said Gordon.

Calvert added, "The GAO has provided a solid framework and now the seven agencies must work together, with the GAO recommendations, as they move forward with the proper implementation of the NGATS system.  Congress, with the Administration, must ensure that the United States has the most effective structure in place so that we maintain our leadership role in the world's air traffic management system." 

Udall said, "The GAO's report provides one more reason for concern about NASA's declining commitment to its aeronautics program.  In light of the importance of NGATS to the future health of our economy and our quality of life, I am troubled by GAO's finding that 'NASA's current plans might leave technologies too underdeveloped for easy transfer to industry and raises the question of what entity will do this developmental work.'"

The current air traffic control system is already running near capacity, so implementation of NGATS is vital to the FAA's ability to keep pace with the three-fold increase in air traffic that is expected over the next 20 years.

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