WASHINGTON — A new satellite navigation policy signed Dec. 8 by U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to give civilian agencies more influence in decisions affecting the GPS system, which is owned and operated by the military, according to a U.S. government official.
Jeffrey Shane, undersecretary for policy for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the creation of a higher-level interagency GPS advisory group, as called for in the policy, “responds to a lot of concerns we have had in representing the civil sector of GPS users.”
The National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Executive Committee will be co-chaired by the deputy secretaries of defense and transportation, according to a White House fact sheet on the new policy dated Dec. 15. The panel replaces the Interagency GPS Executive Board, which was created in 1996 and made up of officials at the assistant secretary or deputy undersecretary level.
Civilian members of the Interagency GPS Executive Board frequently complained that their voices were not being fully heard during their bi-annual meetings.
“I went to the meetings with a lot of enthusiasm, thinking it would be an interesting area,” Shane said Dec. 16 in a conference call to discuss the new policy. “But I discovered instead of voting on decisions of modernization, I was getting briefed on decisions being made since the previous meeting.
“I don’t want to suggest that the military or the Air Force has not taken civilian interest seriously,” Shane said. “It has been a marvelous system and changed the way transportation and other sectors of economic activity have been done. The complaint is now that there are more civilian than military users, we’re not satisfying all the players at the table.”
The GPS is a 24-satellite constellation that provides position-location, velocity and time information to receivers anywhere on the globe. The system was developed by the Department of Defense for military use, but a robust commercial market has developed around the navigation signals, prompting calls for more civil input into the system.
The new “U.S. Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Policy” was the result of a 14-month review led by the U.S. National Security Council. The review was undertaken in response to a number of relevant changes since GPS policy was last updated in 1996, a White House official told reporters during a Dec. 15 briefing. These include the emergence of non-U.S. satellite navigation systems, such as Europe’s planned Galileo system, and the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which has a huge stake in GPS performance, the White House official said.
One of the overall goals of the policy is to ensure interoperability between GPS and foreign navigation services while maintaining the U.S. system as the “gold standard,” the White House official said.
The White House official said the new advisory board will elevate GPS issues in the overall government discourse.
The Defense Department will retain responsibility for GPS acquisition, operation and modernization under the new policy. The Pentagon also will be responsible for ensuring U.S. access to the system in the face of enemy interference attempts and denying GPS to adversaries “without unduly disrupting civil, commercial and scientific uses of these services outside an area of military operations, or for homeland security purposes,” the fact sheet says.
The Pentagon must stick to its past commitment not to use selective availability, which refers to the degradation of civilian GPS signals on a global basis, the fact sheet says.
The Department of Transportation, in coordination with the Homeland Security Department, will have responsibility for providing back-up positioning, navigation and timing services in the event of a disruption to GPS services, the fact sheet says.
The Transportation Department also will have the lead role in developing GPS enhancements intended for transportation or other civilian applications, the fact sheet says. According to Shane, the policy for the first time gives civilian government agencies an opportunity to make enhancements to the GPS system, provided they come up with the requisite funding. “If you want to have an effective seat at the table, you have to bring money with you,” he said. “So the [Department of Transportation] will.”
Shane said it was too early to discuss future modernization efforts the Department of Transportation might fund. “This will be an ongoing program,” he said. “It won’t be one meeting where we decide on one number. Under the improved governance process, we expect as time goes on, civilian equity will be taken far more seriously in the overall process than in past iterations.”
The new policy also leaves open the possibility of including civilian secondary payloads on GPS satellites, including but not limited to search and rescue payloads, the fact sheet says. The Defense Department will have the lead role in assessing the feasibility of hosting secondary payloads aboard GPS satellites, the fact sheet says.
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