AIN Blog: Senator Demands Answers on Controller Training

 - July 3, 2012, 7:04 AM

Sen. Claire McCaskill is the latest politician to take a poke at the FAA, this time over an $860 million contract to train new and current air traffic controllers. According to the Missouri Democrat, who is chairman of the Senate subcommittee on contracting oversight, the program will run out of money by August, more than one year before the contract is scheduled to end.

“Call me old-fashioned, but a company that overcharges and underperforms is a company that deserves a pink slip and not a contract extension and more taxpayer dollars,” said McCaskill, whose first six-year term is ending this year.

The FAA awarded the Air Traffic Controller Optimum Training Solution (Atcots) contract in 2008 to defense contractor Raytheon to train veteran and future controllers, and to develop new and more efficient training methods. The contract has a base period of five years and was originally valued at $437 million.

On Sept. 30, 2010, the Office of Inspector General published a report that highlighted serious shortcomings in the contract for the Atcots program. Among the issues raised in the report were significant cost overruns, poor procurement practices and a lack of effective contract oversight. In its first two years, the Atcots contract exceeded baseline estimates by $46 million, and was not sufficient to cover promised innovations, including reduced training times and costs.

In letter to acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on June 25, McCaskill demanded answers about soaring costs, huge overruns and poor performance by Raytheon. She also questioned the agency’s plans to extend the contract by three years without addressing the problems that led to the cost overruns and performance shortfalls in the first place.

The senator’s letter to Huerta is in response to new information provided by Inspector General Calvin Scovel III during his ongoing review of the contract, which was requested by McCaskill in 2011. The IG has found that the contract has failed to achieve its original goals, including reducing costs, reducing training time and developing new and innovative training.

The letter calls for the FAA to provide information regarding its decision-making process as well as documents regarding the award of incentive fees and bonuses to Raytheon during the life of the contract.

McCaskill told Huerta that accountability in government and safeguarding taxpayer money is something Missourians rightly expect. That goes for the rest of us in the other 49.


Time to ask, why is the FAA contracting out training of Air Traffic Controllers when the training experts are employed by the FAA. I was at the FAA Academy and an instructor and supervisor. We did a great job of weeding out those less likely to succeed in radar training. It was a tough program and well run. After the 81 strike things changed and I believe there was some under the table dealing in the training area. Time to go back to the way it was when there weren't things such as cost over runs. When the experts, the best available ATCs were selected to be instructors. Who Ratheion hired should probably be investigated. Trying to shorten the training time and reducing the failure rate is not prudent. Seasoning is part of the training of Radar Air Traffic Conrollers. The quick fix syndrome I think is what has led to the problems the FAA is having within the ranks of Air Traffic Controllers. I remember how the quick fix sydnrome was born after the 81 strike. Due to the loss of a majority of ATCs someone in the FAA decided they needed to rush through trainge and put out as many ATCs as quickly as possible to replinsih the losses which resulted after the strike. I remember how we were hammared by every special interest group including the union concerning new hires who did not make it through the Academy training program. We were hammered because we were doing our job, special interests are not interested in anyone doing their job, that is discrimination to them.

As a trainee of Mr Di Leo many years ago I respectively have to disagree. When I went through the program post 81 strike the agency provided all the training, no contractors. This allowed the experts with the most recent and relevant experience to train the future controllers and I was a grateful recipient. However over the last several years, most CPCs are refusing these training assignments. Although a Mon-Fri schedule may be advantageous, the increased productivity requirements ( from 4 hours to 6 hours per day) , loss of premium pay (holidays, Sundays, night differentials and overtime) keep many of the better qualified trainers working traffic. Also the reluctance of Bargaining Unit Employees to "make the call"on other BUEs completely undermines the training program. I believe that the most effective and efficient training system is one that includes contract training administered with FAA oversight.

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