ATM Modernization, Commercial

FAA’s SE2020: Supporting NextGen With Research, Engineering

By Jonathan Ray | October 1, 2010
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Earlier this year, FAA awarded six contracts to industry teams under the Systems Engineering 2020 (SE2020) program. The SE2020 portfolio of contracts, with an estimated value of about $6.4 billion over 10 years, has been described as the largest set of awards in FAA history. Overall, the purpose of SE2020 is to establish a set of competitively awarded contracts to enable FAA program offices to meet their objectives, including the research and system engineering required for the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen).

Prime contractors Boeing, ITT Corp,. General Dynamics and Metron Aviation lead industry teams across the research portfolio; CSSI, Inc. and Booz Allen Hamilton lead teams in the systems engineering portion of the SE2020 program. About 90 companies are participating on the vendor teams, including airframers, avionics manufacturers and system developers and integrators.

The SE2020 program is managed by Elizabeth Soltys, a 20-year FAA veteran who began her federal career designing air-traffic control facilities to house research and full-scale development systems. She has represented FAA in managing inter-agency agreements with NASA and the Department of Defense in order to coordinate cross-agency research portfolios; she managed a Shared Situational Awareness initiative to advance net-centricity, then resident within the Joint Program and Development Office (JPDO), and as a lead engineer, awarded large contracts.

Elizabeth Soltys

Soltys also has private-sector experience in engineering and finance. She worked as a structural engineer designing skyscrapers in Manhattan and was employed by the former Kidder, Peabody & Co., in the mergers and acquisitions department. She has a bachelor’s degree in science (applied mathematics), a five-year engineering degree with emphasis in structural engineering, and a master’s degree in business administration (accounting and finance). In a recent interview, Avionics Magazine asked Soltys about the progress of the SE2020 program and its role in NextGen implementation.

Q: The SE2020 contract awards, worth potentially $6.4 billion over 10 years, have been described as the largest set of awards in FAA’s history. Where does the program fall in FAA’s budget process, and what level of funding is currently available?

A: Actually, these contracts are not funded by themselves in the FAA budget cycle. The task orders issued under SE2020 are funded by the client organizations seeking the support services offered by the SE2020 contractor teams. The SE2020 portfolio of contracts provides the FAA community with an efficient contracting vehicle that enables the organizations to obtain system engineering and research services.

Also, contracts under SE2020 do not provide for full-scale development efforts, such as that currently under way in ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast). The SE2020 contracts have been put in place to provide for early research, integrated analysis and system engineering that will support modernization decisions. Ultimately, there will be system modifications that result from the research and analysis that was conducted through these vehicles. These upgrades can involve infrastructure that the FAA owns or systems that service providers and/or airframe operators own.

Q: Will the prototyping and demonstration activities under SE2020 serve as the basis for systems acquisitions?

A: Sometimes yes and sometimes no. You conduct research to determine if a concept or program is viable technically and economically and if it should progress to the next stage, which could be performing further research, analyzing alternatives, implementing a process, or buying a system. Sometimes the results of the research show that you shouldn’t buy a specific system — and that’s OK. In other words, through the research, analysis and systems engineering work done under these contracts, we obtain the knowledge necessary to effectively evaluate multiple alternatives. The work enables the FAA to consider the costs and benefits associated with each alternative and make appropriate decisions (e.g., what we should buy or implement and what we should not.)

Q: The indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract vehicle is employed within DoD and other agencies. To what extent has FAA used IDIQ contracts on other programs?

A: FAA has many IDIQ contracts. In support services, we have used IDIQ contracts. IDIQ contracts can be used under support services contracts and full-scale development contracts. It is a contracting mechanism.

Q: So there are many other examples of this contract vehicle within FAA?

A: Correct. However, the term “IDIQ” can be misleading. In SE2020, indefinite quantity, indefinite delivery refers to the contract vehicles awarded to the six prime vendors. Task orders issued against these contracts will have a specific duration, and specific deliverables will be identified in them. And “indefinite quantity” refers to an indefinite number of task orders since there is no guarantee that there will be follow-on work (i.e., additional task orders).

In addition, the SE2020 contracting vehicles differ somewhat in another aspect. While SE2020 has assembled an excellent team of vendors, it is possible that a vendor will have performance issues. If a vendor is unable to perform under the portfolio, a substitution can be made. If this should occur, we do not need to rewrite contract language and experience a loss of valuable time on the project. Before awarding these contracts, we ensured that more than one vendor team (in the portfolio of company vendors) had the capability to perform the tasks described in the statement of work. This allows us to immediately assign the work to another vendor and not miss any of our NextGen milestones.

Q: So any task order would be distributed within that portfolio?

A: Typically, when you have a multiple award vehicle, which is what the SE2020 contracts are, you conduct task order competitions to determine who will receive the task order work. We have contract language that does not necessarily require the FAA to conduct task order competitions. In fact, we do not plan to conduct many task order competitions. The SE2020 contract language allows us to distribute the work across the vehicle to the team that is the “best fit.” We also can use a continuity of service clause that allows us to assign the work to a team that is performing well. For example, if a team has already built a testbed, we have the option to go back to that team and utilize that capability while capitalizing on the investment we have already made toward that effort.

And we have a few other noteworthy elements that allow us to distribute work equitably among the vendor team primes versus running a task order competition, which typically takes a great deal more time. Conceivably, it could take an organization another year to compete and award a task order to a vendor team. In SE2020, it only takes a matter of weeks to distribute task orders to the prime vendors on a rational basis.

Q: How will SE2020 complement and interrelate with other NextGen programs, such as ADS-B, Data Communications, Trajectory-Based Operations, Collaborative ATM, System Wide Information Management (SWIM)?

A: Some programs are further along in the life cycle; other programs are early in the life cycle. For example, in trajectory-based operations, analyses will be performed under the Screening Information Request (SIR) 2 portfolio that we call Systems Engineering, since some of the elements are further along in the life cycle and are getting ready for final requirements and investment analysis decisions.

However, there may also be trajectory-based operations studies early in the life cycle that require research, which is part of the SE2020 Research Portfolio (SIR 1). So trajectory-based operations can fall potentially in both of our SIRs, systems engineering as well as research.

ADS-B is being deployed today. However, like any other system, there will always be systems engineering enhancements. For instance, a graphical-user interface that is effective today may be obsolete eight years from now, and the related systems engineering analyses and human factors requirements may come to the SE2020 contracts. Or perhaps there will be a new interface required in the future we could evaluate that interface within SE2020 as well.

Q: In other words, it wouldn’t be something that would be added to the current understanding with ITT, for instance, in rolling out ADS-B?

A: The ADS-B program has already gone through a JRC (Joint Resources Council) and has a budget, as well as deadlines and milestones the program needs to meet. If there were to be a giant shift, (not that I’m aware of any), the FAA wouldn’t just put the changes on the ITT contract that provides for the full scale development of ADS-B. The modification would have to go through a normal budget cycle of alternatives and system engineering analyses, and then back through the JRC for a budget request. Any agency that wants to make significant enhancements to a major system acquisition would have to go through a process that requires a systems engineering analysis before it can modify their current infrastructure. The additional analysis may or may not be obtained through the SE2020 contracts, and may or may not be awarded to ITT.

Q: When will the first task orders be issued under SE2020, and on which areas will they focus?

A: To start, each vendor that received a contract on SE2020 was issued one task order for program management. Since there are six prime contracts within SE2020, six task orders were initially issued. We are in the processing of transitioning 100 task orders to SE2020 from contracts that are due to expire at the end of this fiscal year (Sept. 30). CSSI, Inc., the first awardee, received the first of these task orders, which was for low-cost ground surveillance pilot engineering and technical services.

Q: Those task orders come attached with money, correct?

A: All task orders will have money attached to them. Each of the six contracts was seeded money for program management. Any and all additional task orders will be funded by the customer organizations that utilize the vehicle.

Q: You specifically mentioned CSSI having been awarded a task order. Have the other vendors been issued any program-specific task orders?

A: As I mentioned, there are approximately100 task orders being processed right now. For each of these, we first ensured that the tasks orders have deliverables that are well defined. Then each task order was submitted to an internal adjudication board that determined if the task orders belong within the SE2020 portfolio, and if so, whether the tasks are research or system engineering work, and which vendor team should receive the work. Some of these adjudicated task orders have been awarded; the others are being reviewed by the FAA’s legal and contracts department.

Starting in August, the vendor teams received draft copies of the task orders adjudicated to their companies in order to ensure that there is no lag in service while transitioning from the existing contract vehicles to the new vehicles. Of course, we need legal and contracts to officially award these task orders, so these drafts are preliminary and without a formal binding signature.

Q: How important is SE2020 to accomplishing the NextGen vision in 10 years?

A: The scope and complexity of Next-Gen are all-encompassing, and SE2020 was specifically designed to ensure that vendor teams provide the approximately 25 core capabilities that are needed to accomplish NextGen’s mission. With this in mind, SE2020 required all the vendor teams to possess the full magnitude of capabilities communications, navigation and surveillance, air traffic management automation capability, unmanned aerial systems, avionics, airframe, simulators, ground-based simulators for rotorcraft as well as large airframes, and human factors. Each prime vendor had to show that its team possesses the full complement and array of aviation expertise to support any and all of these core capabilities.

With this pooling of highly technical engineering talent alone, SE2020 has made a significant contribution to NextGen. We have gathered in one place a fantastic cross-section of the aviation community and have put processes in place that allow agency customers to obligate their funds, issue task orders and quickly access this pool of exceptional systems engineering talent. We think that, for research and system engineering requirements, SE2020 will definitely provide our agency with the ability to successfully accomplish many elements of NextGen.

Broad-Based Industry Teams Tackle Air-Ground Integration Challenges

In recent interviews, Avionics Magazine spoke with representatives of Boeing and ITT Corp., prime contractors for the two largest SE2020 contract awards. We wanted to know what their respective teams will contribute to the SE2020 effort. Below are excerpts of what they said. For the full interviews, visit and

➤ Neil Planzer, vice president, Boeing Global ATM Solutions: “It’s important to understand that Boeing’s contribution is really trying to determine the best way to move NextGen forward by linking, coordinating and contributing to the ground and air integration. When you look at airframes that fly the sky today, you understand that new ones are very capable, far more capable than the system currently allows them to be. The FAA wants to understand what that’s going to [mean] and how that will integrate to the ground. But additionally, the NextGen integration will require mixed fleets. So we have lots of airplanes out there that are going to have to operate with retrofit equipment. Boeing is very good, as with our partners, at determining the best way to approach that integration.”

➤ John Kefaliotis, vice president, Next Generation Air Transportation Systems, ITT: The SIR 1 (Screening Information Request), of which we are one of three large business primes — the other two being Boeing and General Dynamics — was to bring to the FAA companies with a full range of capabilities in engineering, research and development as applied to the Next Generation Air Transportation System. Those capabilities are to be used by the FAA on a task order basis to fully define NextGen capabilities to allow them to be effectively deployed in the National Airspace System.
ITT has brought a very broad and highly capable team. ITT is the prime contractor, leading a team consisting of, for example, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Thales, airframers Bombardier and Embraer, avionics companies Rockwell Collins, ACSS — so we have a team that has a full range of capabilities for airframe, avionics, ground-based automation, comm, navigation and surveillance. We believe the FAA will avail itself of the services of this broadly capable team to fully mature next generation capabilities over the next 10 years. We’re very excited to be a prime on SE2020 and we’re very excited about the opportunity to partner with FAA to mature NextGen capabilities.”

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