Even now, the OIG does not believe ERAM is out of the woods. At a congressional hearing in September, Inspector General Calvin Scovel said hundreds of software issues have been revealed during operational trials that still need to be addressed. Scovel concedes that while the FAA is making progress in deployment, “it has not fully resolved critical software-related issues.”
Analysis by the IG's office shows that further delays are possible, and that the cost overrun could be closer to $500 million rather than the $330 million estimated by the FAA.
Scovel has reiterated that delays to ERAM will have a ripple effect in other NextGen initiatives, such as ADS-B, data communications and system-wide information management. More than $500 million has been allocated in these programs specifically to integrate them with ERAM, according to the OIG, and they are “dependent on the successful implementation of ERAM to meet their performance parameters.”
However, senior FAA officials are confident that the recent deployments show that ERAM is on track. At the September congressional hearing, acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta stressed that the revised estimates remain valid. “I think we have turned the corner with this program,” Huerta told lawmakers.
FAA officials say the remaining issues with ERAM are not as serious as indicated by the numbers cited by the OIG. Only a small percentage of these issues represent new software problems, and many are site-specific, they say. Problems are prioritized, and worked on by a team representing the FAA, Lockheed Martin and the controllers' union.
The importance of 2013 for the ERAM program cannot be overstated. By the end of the year, the program will have either vanquished its past problems and nearly completed deployment, or will be facing a further timetable revision and more questions from Congress. And while ADS-B faces less uncertainty in its last year of deployment, the agency still has to tackle tough questions about the next stage of this program.