August 18, 2021
Requested by the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations
FAA’s Approach for Establishing and Modifying Air Traffic Controller Staffing Levels Needs Improvement To Properly Identify Staffing Needs at Contract Towers
What We Looked At
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Contract Tower (FCT) Program consists of 257 contract towers in 46 States operated by 3 contractors and the Air National Guard. Contract towers manage about 28 percent of the Nation’s air traffic control operations. The FCT Program is governed by seven contracts, based on geographical regions, which establish controller staffing for contract towers. These contracts normally cover a 5-year period and require contractors to submit controller staffing plans for each tower during the contract solicitation process. Our audit objective was to assess FAA’s approach for establishing and modifying air traffic controller staffing levels at contract towers.
What We Found
FAA does not establish controller staffing levels at contract towers; instead the Agency reviews and approves staffing levels the contractors submit during the contract solicitation process. While FAA requires a program-wide staffing minimum of four controllers per tower, this minimum is not based on any Agency analysis or a study of controller staffing levels at contract towers. Also, FAA does not adequately monitor whether contractors adhere to the staffing minimum requirement. This is because FAA has not formally documented its process for establishing and reviewing contract tower staffing minimums. In addition, FAA does not proactively review staffing data to identify when staffing changes are needed; instead it relies on contractors to request and justify such changes. Further, FAA did not provide evidence that it had conducted any reviews of contractor performance relative to the labor hours stated in the approved staffing plans. As a result, the Agency may have missed key indicators of the potential need for staffing modifications.
We made four recommendations to improve FAA’s approach for staffing contract towers and monitoring performance levels. FAA concurred with recommendations 1 through 3. Thus, we consider these recommendations resolved but open pending FAA’s completion of planned actions and an Office of Inspector General (OIG) review. FAA partially concurred with recommendation 4, which we consider open and unresolved and request that the Agency reconsider its position within 30 days of the date of this report.