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FAA Needs To Adopt a Risk-Based, Data-Driven Scheduling Process To Improve the Effectiveness of Its Drug Abatement Inspection Program

Self-initiated
Project ID: 
AV2019055
What We Looked At
Effective drug and alcohol testing programs in the transportation industry are critical to ensuring the safety of the traveling public. The National Transportation Safety Board recently highlighted this issue in its 2017–2018 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements, stating that various issues have led to an epidemic of impairment in transportation. Given this important safety concern, our office initiated a series of reviews on drug testing programs within the Department of Transportation, beginning with this audit of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Our objective was to assess the effectiveness of FAA’s inspection program. Specifically, we evaluated FAA’s risk-based approach for prioritizing and selecting companies for inspection and the basis for the risk factors used.
 
What We Found
The system FAA uses to develop inspection schedules does not assign risk levels to companies or prioritize inspections based on risk—contrary to FAA’s Safety Risk Management Policy, which was implemented to identify hazards, analyze and assess safety risk, and develop controls. Instead, FAA judgmentally selects where and when to conduct drug and alcohol inspections based on available inspection resources, company location, and FAA’s desire to conduct as many inspections as possible. Also, the Drug Abatement Division experiences a high number of inspection cancellations. This is partly because its inspection scheduling decisions are based on inaccurate or incomplete company data and it does not coordinate with FAA Flight Standards inspectors to share information prior to scheduling inspections. When these cancellations occur, FAA has not established a risk-based process for selecting substitute companies for inspection. As a result, the Agency is missing opportunities to better target its drug and alcohol program inspections based upon available data and those companies that pose greater risks.
 
Our Recommendations
We made two recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the Drug Abatement Program. FAA concurred with both of our recommendations. We consider both of our recommendations resolved but open pending completion of planned actions.

Recommendations

Open

Closed

No. 1 to FAA

Develop and implement a data-driven, risk-based inspection scheduling program in accordance with FAA's Safety Risk Management Policy. The program should include: a. Procedures for re-inspecting companies with identified non-compliances to ensure corrective actions have been implemented and are effective, and b. Procedures for selecting substitute companies in the event of inspection cancellations.

No. 2 to FAA

Develop and implement a process to coordinate and verify the accuracy of aviation company data, including coordinating with FAA Flight Standards, prior to finalizing the inspection schedule.