Federal Aviation Administration:

Human Capital System Incorporates Many Leading Practices, but Improving Employees' Satisfaction with Their Workplace Remains a Challenge

GAO-10-89: Published: Oct 28, 2009. Publicly Released: Nov 30, 2009.

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Aviation is critical to the nation's economic well-being, global competitiveness, and national security. The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) 48,000 employees guide aircraft, oversee safety, and maintain air traffic control equipment. FAA will need these skills and additional expertise to address evolving missions. As requested, GAO reviewed (1) how FAA's human capital system compares with practices of leading organizations and (2) how FAA employees' workplace satisfaction compares with that of other federal government employees. GAO reviewed documents and relevant studies, and interviewed FAA officials who implement human capital procedures and union representatives. GAO also reviewed survey data on workplace satisfaction.

FAA's human capital system incorporates many practices used in leading organizations, but the agency's placement near the bottom in best places to work rankings, published by the Partnership for Public Service and American University's Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation, could pose challenges to employee recruitment, motivation, and retention. As part of strategic workforce planning, FAA determines the critical skills needed in its workforce and assesses individual worker skill levels. It also follows leading practices in performance management, but FAA officials and union representatives questioned the system's fairness, echoing concerns that they have raised in the past. FAA follows fewer leading practices in diversity management, but has an opportunity to strengthen its efforts as it updates diversity outreach plans. Despite these efforts, FAA ranked 214th out of 216 agencies in 2009 as the best place to work in the federal government, similar to its ranking in 2007. These low rankings could pose obstacles to FAA's efforts to retain its existing workforce and recruit staff with the requisite skills needed to implement the Next Generation Air Transportation System. By fiscal year 2013, FAA projects that 38 percent of its employees who perform work that is critical to FAA's mission will be eligible to retire. While FAA employee responses to governmentwide surveys indicate that they like their work, their responses are considerably less positive than the rest of the federal government regarding other factors that have an impact on employee recruitment, motivation, and retention. The percentage of FAA employees' positive responses regarding communications, involvement in decisions that affect their work, and respect for their leaders were up to 19 points below those of the rest of the federal government. FAA has developed an action plan to improve leadership and create a performance-based culture that could improve employees' workplace satisfaction. However, FAA has not established accountability for the plan's success.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In response to our update request, FAA's provided its 2010 outreach plan for mission critical occupations. That document focuses on recruiting for the acquisitions workforce and for controllers, refers the reader to the 2009 controller diversity plan, issued before we issued our report. According to FAA, this is the most recent document for controller diversity. We have requested the safety diversity plan, which, according to FAA, was in the Secretary's office for approval in October, 2009 (see DM 3316967).

    Recommendation: To ensure that FAA can hire, motivate, and retain the talented staff it needs to operate the national airspace system and implement the transition to NextGen, Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to ensure that key leading practices in diversity management are incorporated in future updates of FAA's plans to increase diversity in the controller and aviation safety workforces.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To ensure that FAA can hire, motivate, and retain the talented staff it needs to operate the national airspace system and implement the transition to NextGen, Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to hold its managers accountable for the outcomes of the Federal Human Capital Survey Action Plan by establishing a performance expectation that FAA managers will achieve the plan's stated increases in positive responses to designated survey items.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To ensure that FAA can hire, motivate, and retain the talented staff it needs to operate the national airspace system and implement the transition to NextGen, Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to hold the agency accountable to Congress and the American people by disclosing the plan, actions, goals, and outcomes in publicly available reports to Congress, such as the annual performance and accountability report.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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