ATO Service Area Restructuring

When Change May Not Guarantee Progress

Reigning in the Restructuring of ATO Service Centers

ISSUE: In December 2005, the ATO announced that it was abandoning its one year old restructuring for yet another expensive reorganizing project. The nine service areas that were established last year—three each in terminal, En Route, and Technical Operations—would be reorganized into three ATO service areas: Eastern, Central and Western.  At the same time, the ATO announced realignment of the administrative and staff support services from the En Route, Terminal and Technical Operations Service Units into shared service centers at the three service area office locations.  The restructure will total about 931 Permanent Change of Station personnel moves in all three regions (323 Eastern, 322 Central and 286 Western).  Implementation began in January 2006.


The National Air Traffic Controllers Association believes the FAA/ATO’s focus on expensive and cumbersome restructuring is misguided and untimely.  NATCA believes that at this time of supposed scarce resources, the Agency should be directing those resources at properly staffing and modernizing the system. The ATO states that “rising operating costs continue to leave a smaller and smaller share of the limited funds available to invest in people, facilities, and to modernize the aging infrastructure.  Meanwhile, the demand for air traffic services is increasing at the same time that tremendous pressure is being placed on the federal budget.”  The ATO believes to help alleviate this problem, realigning the current nine region service area structure in to three will have major cost reductions while “reducing duplication of effort while increasing efficiency, productivity, and consistency in the services they provide.”  The FAA has dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars to this and other structural activities and has yet to demonstrate a return on the public’s investment. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association questions whether this restructure will actually save money and be beneficial to the performance of the organization or its workforce. 


The restructuring of the ATO actually started in 2004 when COO Russ Chew made a decision to consider restructuring the ATO Service Area offices1 and centralizing the managerial, administrative, and business support functions for these Service Area offices at three area office sites: one each in the Eastern, Central, and Western Service Areas. 

On December 6, 2005, COO Russ Chew released a letter to the employees partially explaining the rationale for this move.  The timeframe for this restructuring is to start in January 2006 and be completed within 12 to 18 months.  This includes all relocation of personnel.  Russ Chew stated that relocations were not expected to take place before June 2006, but according to the “ATO Field Restructuring Frequently Asked Questions,” most of the personnel relocations are to take place over the summer and expected to be completed by December 31, 2006.

The FAA along with a firm they hired, Booz Allen Hamilton (strategic management and technology consulting firm), produced two similar studies on the structure of the ATO and offered recommendations on the best practices to streamline the agency.  Both studies had some major contradictions with the current plan as to the restructuring of the Air Traffic Organization.  The FAA’s recommendations would consolidate ATO headquarters service units into 5 line and 2 staff while “reducing the number of management positions from 144 to 30 by consolidating operational units into ATC Services and consolidating the 9 regional offices into one service unit located in Headquarters and relocate employees to field facilities near their former workplace.”  The current realignment structure is organized into 5 line service units and a Technical OPS Director of Operations position in each of the three SAOs (Service Area Offices), leaving more layers of management and relocating 931 PCS positions.  During Booz Allen’s investigation, they found that the “proposed nine region to three SAOs doesn’t solve current inefficiencies and exacerbates previously identified coordination problems between service units.”