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Hearing: JPDO And The Next Generation Air Transportation System: Status And Issues


Location: Washington, DC

Hearing: JPDO And The Next Generation Air Transportation System: Status And Issues

Good morning. I want to welcome our witnesses to today's hearing. We have a distinguished panel, and I look forward to your testimony.

The topic of today's hearing—the status of the nation's NextGen initiative and the multi-agency Joint Planning and Development Office tasked with overseeing the initiative—is one of the most important topics that we will address this year. It's important because it concerns the future of America's air transportation system, and the question is whether we will have a system that will be able to meet the needs of our 21st century economy.

I think we can all agree that we need to be able to answer that question in the affirmative—for the health of our economy, the quality of life of our citizens, the safety of the flying public, and our international competitiveness. In short, we all want the NextGen initiative to succeed.

Yet, hope and good intentions by themselves are not going to be sufficient to ensure success. We are going to need commitment, accountability, and ultimately, effective performance by all involved.

I am troubled by indications that all may not be going as well as hoped with the NextGen effort, and I hope that our witnesses will be able to shed some light on the true status of the initiative.

For example, when DOT and JPDO testified before this Subcommittee exactly a year ago, we were told that a Memorandum of Understanding defining the NextGen partner agencies roles and responsibilities would be finalized "within the next few weeks." One year later, it is clear that that did not happen and still hasn't happened.

At that same hearing, we were told that JPDO planned to release an Enterprise Architecture for NextGen in the summer of 2006. That did not happen and still hasn't happened.

The NASA Authorization Act of 2005 directed NASA to align its Airspace Systems Research program projects "so that they directly support the objectives of the JPDO's Next Generation Air Transportation System Integrated Plan" - and to do that by the end of 2006. Based on at least some of the witness testimony, that alignment doesn't appear to have happened either - and a similar situation exists with respect to FAA's R&D programs.

In addition, today's witnesses are echoing concerns we have heard in previous hearings about the negative impact that NASA's uncertain commitment to its aeronautics program is having on a host of important R&D initiatives.

Equally troubling from the standpoint of management continuity, there have been three JPDO Directors in the past three years and two NGATS Institute Executive Directors in the past two years, with the Institute position currently vacant.

Moreover, the head of FAA's Air Traffic Organization has recently left the agency, the FAA Administrator is scheduled to depart later this year, and the Department of Transportation has a new Secretary.

In addition, the multi-agency Senior Policy Council, which was established to provide high-level advice and policy guidance to the JPDO on the NextGen initiative, has met just three times in the past three years—and not once in the past year.

Finally, we haven't yet seen a clear plan from FAA and the JPDO for implementing agreed-upon NextGen technologies and procedures into the national airspace system expeditiously. That is worrisome, because it is clear that there are very real costs associated with undue delay.

Now, I want to be clear that my comments are not criticisms of the dedication or commitment of the JPDO team. I recognize that developing and implementing the NextGen system are enormous challenges.

However, we need to take a look both at where progress is being made, and equally importantly, where improvement is needed. That's what today's hearing is intended to accomplish, and I want to express my appreciation to our witnesses for helping the Subcommittee in that task.

With that, I recognize Ranking Member Calvert for his opening remarks.

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