April 23, 2019
Requested by the House Committee on Appropriations
FAA Has Taken Steps To Advance the SENSR Program, but Opportunities and Risks Remain
What We Looked At
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) depends on a vast but aging network of radars to manage air traffic and weather. FAA has partnered with three other agencies through the Spectrum Efficient National Surveillance Radar (SENSR) program to auction Government-owned electromagnetic spectrum frequencies and use the revenue—expected to be valued in the billions of dollars—to develop and deploy new radar systems. Given the significant investment and coordination required to design, procure, test, and implement a new national air traffic and weather surveillance system, the House Committee on Appropriations directed our office to examine FAA’s SENSR program. Our audit objectives were to assess FAA SENSR program’s (1) progress, including leveraging of work conducted by other agencies, and (2) plan to mitigate program risks, such as integration with the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) and the National Airspace System (NAS).
What We Found
FAA has taken initial steps to advance the SENSR program, such as establishing a Joint Program Office and developing a Spectrum Pipeline Plan, which outlines the current schedule for making spectrum available for auction in 2024. However, FAA and partner agencies have not yet defined the program’s requirements and are still working to establish firm costs and schedule. FAA also still has opportunities to leverage resources from its partner agencies to help advance the program. Moreover, FAA, partner agencies, and our work have identified several critical risks to advancing SENSR. These include an aggressive schedule and generating sufficient revenue to cover the cost of the program. While FAA has established a plan to mitigate some of these risks, our analysis shows some of the planned mitigations may not be sufficient and require sustained management attention. In addition, FAA has not fully analyzed risks related to integrating SENSR into the many complex systems within the NAS, including NextGen technologies that are currently in development and being deployed.
FAA concurred with both of our recommendations to improve the coordination, planning, and risk mitigation of the SENSR program. Based on FAA’s response, we consider both recommendations resolved but open pending completion of planned actions.