August 11, 2021
Mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018
FAA Can Increase Its Inspector Staffing Model’s Effectiveness by Implementing System Improvements and Maximizing Its Capabilities
What We Looked At
Much of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) safety oversight work is performed by its aviation safety inspector workforce, whose responsibilities include overseeing the maintenance practices of air carriers and other operators, certifying the airworthiness of new aircraft, and monitoring the work performed by individual and organizational designees. To help determine its future needs, FAA uses its inspector staffing model to produce annual forecasts of up to 10 fiscal years of inspector staffing levels. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 directed FAA to update its safety-critical staffing model and our office to conduct an audit to determine the staffing model’s assumptions and methodologies and whether it accounts for FAA’s authority to fully use designees, which handle certification reviews and approvals on FAA’s behalf. Our audit objectives were to (1) assess the changes FAA made to update the inspector staffing model, (2) review the assumptions and methodologies the model uses to predict the number of aviation safety inspectors FAA needs to meet its current and future oversight responsibilities, and (3) determine how FAA’s model accounts for the use of designees.
What We Found
Since 2013, FAA has taken constructive steps to improve the model but has not taken substantive action on three recommendations from the National Research Council, including developing performance measures to assess the accuracy of the model’s staffing estimates. Further, FAA has yet to implement two new models that would reflect organizational changes, and only uses the model to produce a single, national inspector staffing figure. Finally, the model accounts solely for the time inspectors spend overseeing individual and organizational designees, not the work these outside parties perform on FAA’s behalf or may perform in the future.
We made seven recommendations to improve the accuracy of FAA’s inspector staffing projections and enhance the capabilities of the staffing model. FAA concurred with five of our seven recommendations and partially concurred with two. We consider six recommendations resolved but open, pending completion of planned actions and have asked FAA to reconsider its action for one partially concurred recommendation.