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FAA Lacks a Clear Process for Identifying and Coordinating NextGen Long-Term Research and Development

Requested By
Requested by the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Subcommittee on Space
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In 2003, Congress mandated that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) establish the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) to develop a plan for implementing the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) by 2025 and coordinate research efforts with other Federal agencies. However, concerned that FAA had failed to establish a clearly defined role for JPDO, Congress eliminated funding for JPDO in 2014. We conducted this review to determine (1) how FAA has reallocated JPDO’s responsibilities for identifying high-priority research and development (R&D), and (2) whether FAA has developed an effective structure to coordinate high-priority R&D with other Federal agencies.

While FAA reallocated JPDO’s statutory responsibilities to its NextGen Office, the Agency lacks a clear process for identifying high-priority R&D to support NextGen, which was one of JPDO’s key roles. In May 2014, FAA established an Interagency Planning Office (IPO) to coordinate NextGen R&D across the Federal government. One of IPO’s first tasks was identifying and prioritizing R&D areas with the potential to advance NextGen capabilities. However, these activities are only a starting point for identifying long-term R&D, and these efforts have not been synchronized with any long-term vision for NextGen.

FAA is in the process of developing a mechanism for coordinating NextGen R&D with other Federal agencies. The agreement between the partner agencies that defines the structures, roles, and responsibilities of those agencies has been drafted but not yet finalized. In addition, while FAA has continued interagency coordination since JPDO’s dissolution, particularly with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Agency has not yet developed a structure for coordinating high-priority R&D with its other three partner agencies, and the level of coordination varies widely.

We made five recommendations to improve FAA’s process and structure for identifying and coordinating long-term NextGen R&D. FAA concurred with all five recommendations. 


Closed on
No. 1 to FAA
Establish and document a process with clear roles and responsibilities for identifying and prioritizing long-term R&D for air traffic management and related efforts.   
Closed on
No. 2 to FAA
Link the long-term vision for NextGen, once completed, with current R&D efforts to identify any additional R&D that may be required.    
Closed on
No. 3 to FAA
Finalize the MOU that establishes the organizational structure and responsibilities for FAA and its partner agencies.
Closed on
No. 4 to FAA
Update the RTT document to include: a. Assignments by position instead of by name; b. Updated organization names and roles; and c. Current projects in an annex rather than in the main document to allow for easier updates.
Closed on
No. 5 to FAA
Have SPC’s six high-priority NextGen capabilities validated by an external entity, such as the REDAC to ensure that they are on the critical path for NextGen development, as well as ensure that there are not other areas that warrant additional attention.