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GPS & Regime Change, Part 2

What Lies Ahead

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Change ahead for the GPS program? You’d better believe it.

At first glance, the biggest change will be who’s not there anymore and who’s not there yet as Bush legacy turns into Obama presidency.

As January 20 arrived and the rite of resignation presaged Inauguration Day, widespread vacancies opened up among the federal posts most important for GPS policy and top-level management (see sidebar, “Roll Call”). And with one notable exception — that of deputy secretary of defense — few replacements had been named.

In itself, that ensures that, in the near term, the GPS program will roll on relatively unaltered. The program won’t be exactly on autopilot — indeed, an experienced cadre of career civil service remain behind the GPS wheel — so much as cruise control.

Even after the repopulation of federal offices begins in earnest, we might expect slow and careful changes, a reflection more of personalities than wholesale changes in policy. That’s because, as Part 1 of this series documented, the past eight years have seen considerable consolidation in the framework of the GPS program.

On the other side of that months-long transition from old regime to new, however, a formidable set of issues involving GPS and, more generally, space-based positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) await Team Obama: sustainment of the GPS constellation, the pace of modernization and changes in acquisition processes, confirmation or revision of the GPS policy making process, GPS’s relationship with other GNSS systems (and a whole set of associated issues of interoperability), a PNT architecture plan in the making, and — somewhere out there — perhaps a new presidential policy.

Filling the Gaps
Despite the widespread departures, there’s no risk that nobody’s minding the GPS store. Career officials in the senior executive service (SES) continue to staff the PNT NCO, key offices, and interagency groups responsible for implementing GPS programs.

The NCO, under executive director Mike Shaw, has funding assured through the 2009 fiscal year (FY09).

An ex officio body, but one rich in GPS expertise, is the PNT ExCom Advisory Committee led by its chair, Jim Schlesinger, former head of the CIA and secretary of defense, and vice-chair, Brad Parkinson, the first program manager of the GPS Joint Program Office (now GPS Wing). The committee was reauthorized late last year and will provide continuity of information and advice for the incoming deputy secretaries and designees who comprise the ExCom membership.

Other experienced GPS resource people include Joel Szabat, deputy assistant secretary for transportation policy, who continues as DoT’s highest PNT-related career official and chaired NCO executive steering group meetings; John Grimes’ deputy, Cheryl Roby, and Ray Swider, a program analyst responsible for PNT policy and planning in ASD/NII; Jason Kim, senior policy analyst in the Office of Space Commercialization; Ken Hodgkins, director of State Department’s Office of Space and Advanced Technologies, and his deputy, David Turner (former director of the Interagency GPS Executive Board that preceded the PNT ExCom).

The GPS Wing, under its commander Col. David Madden, remains the lead acquisition agency for GPS satellites, the operational control segment, and military user equipment.

The process of regime change in the federal government is, indeed, so broad and thorough-going that in 2000 Congress passed a Presidential Transition Act “to develop and deliver orientation activities for key prospective Presidential appointees” and prepare a transition directory laying out the roles and responsibilities of key government posts.

When the new officials do take up their duties, they will receive what are called “transition books,” documents prepared by career civil servants that outline the appointees’ roles and responsibilities and orient them to their new positions. On the long list for the DoT and DoD deputy secretaries — essentially, the chief operating officers for those departments — will be cochairing the PNT ExCom. Absent explicit instructions from above, however, each appointee from department secretary on down decides which endeavors move to the top of the list.

A New GPS Action Faction
As Inside GNSS went to press, Obama’s appointments to date have provided little clue as to where GPS falls on that priority list. None of the top appointees appear to have a particularly deep background on the subject.

More generally, however, the new president has clearly shown that defense and security issues are as high on his agenda as economic issues. He persuaded Bush’s current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a leader generally well-respected by both Republicans and Democrats, to continue in his post. (The other Republican cabinet nominee — for secretary of transportation — is Ray LaHood. More about him in a little while.)

Whatever the reasons, Gates’ appointment will bring much continuity throughout the department. Obama’s transition team authorized Gates to invite a number of DoD political appointees to remain in their current positions. Among those was John Young, the under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics.

Around 40 DoD positions require Senate confirmation, including the deputy secretary, undersecretaries, and assistant secretaries and some deputies. The remaining appointments can be made by the defense secretary.

So, now that Gates’s go-to guy — deputy secretary Gordon England — is gone, where will the GPS action faction arise in DoD?

For deputy secretary of defense, Obama chose William J. Lynn III, senior vice-president for government operations and strategy at Raytheon Corporation, who had previously served in a number of Pentagon posts. (See “360 Degrees” in this issue)

The nomination drew criticism from observers who pointed out another Obama campaign promise — not to appoint high officials who had served as lobbyists within the previous year. However, the tradition of regular migrations between DoD and defense contractors (and back again) is older than President Eisenhower’s 1961 admonition about the “unwarranted influence” of a “military-industrial complex.”

Although Lynn apparently hasn’t had a close association with the GPS program, his company does. Raytheon is the prime contractor for the WAAS program and leads one of two competing teams seeking the contract to build the next-generation GPS operational control segment (OCX).

As Raytheon’s chief liaison with federal executive and legislative branches, Lynn had advocated for a variety defense projects. Although his most recent posting to the Pentagon as comptroller focused more on budgetary and financial matters, he previously served as OSD director of program analysis and evaluation (PA&E) from 1993 to 1997, where he oversaw all aspects of the DoD’s strategic planning process.

The PA&E directorate can play a substantial role in shaping the fortunes of defense programs. For instance, the Air Force recently fielded a PA&E inquiry about how design of the control segment affects the space segment — and the financial implications for associated budgets.

So, given his background, Lynn seems as though he could pick up where England left off, as a leader — champion, even — for GPS.

The Transportation X Factor
A big unknown is the kind of role Obama’s secretary of transportation will play. DoT has inherited a domestic GPS leadership role among civil agencies — largely because of its regulatory and operational responsibilities for safety-of-life modes of transportation. (The latter are particularly apparent in civil aviation with programs such as the Federal Aviation Administration’s GPS Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), but also exist in maritime, rail, and perhaps eventually, highway applications.)

Most observers have acknowledged the relevant background and high quality of Obama’s selections — with notable exceptions. One is Leon Panetta, nominee for CIA director, a man with deep government experience, but little in matters of intelligence or security. The other is Ray LaHood, a Republican congressman from Illinois who ended his House sojourn this month.

Obama picked LaHood over several potential Democratic nominees with transportation experience. Having served for six years during the 1990s on the House Transportation Committee, LaHood doesn’t draw a complete blank on the subject. (In contrast to Maria Cino, a Bush deputy secretary of transportation appointed in 2005 with only a background in Republican Party fund-raising. Cino disarmed skeptics at the first staff meeting by taking out her driver’s license and saying it was her credentials for the transportation job.)

Nonetheless, past DoT secretaries, such as Norman Mineta and Federico Peña, were personally familiar with the GPS role in intelligent transportation systems as well as civil aviation. LaHood has a much steeper learning curve, should he even decide to take up the subject of GPS.

Critical Infrastructure, Global Competition
Unlike its performance in many other areas, the Bush administration did a pretty good job in institutionalizing GPS.

An updated performance specification for the GPS Standard Positioning Service (SPS) — based on the L1 C/A-code signal that is in all mass-market consumer GPS products as well as commercial and professional equipment. An active and well-functioning PNT ExCom, NCO, and Advisory Committee. A selection process under way for a new generation of satellites (GPS III) and operational control system (OCX).

Agreements or regular exchanges with other GNSS providers, including the European Union, Japan, Russia, and India. Renewed offers to the International Maritime Organization and International Civil Aviation Organization that the GPS SPS would remain available as a cornerstone for civil users for the foreseeable future.

But Obama’s administration will have to maintain the momentum.

Challenges abound. As the biennial DoD report on GPS sent to Congress late last year pointed out, system robustness and competitiveness must be sustained in the face of aging satellites and emerging GNSS competitors.

The GPS constellation is healthy, populated by 30 or so satellites compared to the specified full operational capability (FOC) of 24, and performing far better than predicted. Nonetheless, as the DoD report pointed out, “of the 31 satellites on orbit at the time of the report, 20 are past their design life, and 19 are without redundancy in either the navigation mission equipment or the satellite bus, or both.”

Funding for modernization of the space and ground segments appears secure and, barring further delays in the Block IIF generation of satellites, sufficient space vehicles should be available to sustain the constellation. But the report ends with a caveat: “To remain the preeminent space-based PNT system, it is imperative that modernization of the GPS spacecraft and ground control system continues on schedule.”

That schedule, however, will bring modernized GPS capabilities to fruition years after the other GNSS providers have built modern systems. Galileo and China’s Compass (Beidou 2) programs both could be fully fielded before the first GPS III satellite with the modernized L1 civil signal (L1C) reaches orbit.

Markets: Infrastructure Rising
Consumer GPS product sales have taken a much-reported hit over the past year when consumer spending as a whole had already turned downward before the September collapse of financial and housing markets. Stand-alone GPS products such as portable navigation devices (PNDs) are coming under further pressure by the growing popularity of smart phones as a platform for location-based applications.

On the commercial side of the market, however, the picture is a lot rosier. And at least one likely presidential initiative — rebuilding America’s infrastructure — should have a strong upside for vendors of higher-priced, high-accuracy GNSS.

Road grading, stake-out surveys, automated machine control, and a range of other applications that have steadily become civil engineering best practices should benefit handily from multi-billion-dollar job-stimulus plans targeting transportation systems.

That initiative will come on top of steady growth in precision agriculture — spurred by high-precision GPS positioning that has moved from yield monitoring, through efficient applications of fertilizers and pesticides, to automated cultivation and seeding that eliminates the overlapping rows (and tedium) of human-guided equipment.

Obama’s pronouncements on behalf of “green” technology could benefit the GNSS industry if the operating efficiencies made possible by the GNSS are recognized and incorporated into these economic stimulus programs.

Even oil and natural gas exploration is expected to fuel steady sales of real-time differential GNSS services and equipment over the middle and long term, despite the recent decline in commodity prices and concerns about reducing the nation’s carbon “footprint.”

Policy: Looking Ahead, Not Back
The two major efforts at GPS-related policy making are the 1996 Presidential Decision Directive (PDD)/National Science and Technology Council-6 issued by the Clinton Administration and the 2004 National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) that superseded it.

If the former was driven by the undermining of selective availability (SA) by the WAAS program and other widely available real-time differential GPS services, then the rise of Galileo drove much of the urgency for the latter.

The 1996 PDD reaffirmed the dual-use principle and opened a path for DoD to develop new post-SA solutions to its security concerns. The 2004 policy, on the other hand, sought to respond to the proliferation of GNSS capabilities in the world.

Galileo, for example, threatened to overlay DoD’s planned M-code signal with an encrypted Public Regulated Service (PRS). Earlier that year, DoD had gotten involved in the negotiations under way between the State Department and EU diplomats that led to a June 2004 agreement on GPS-Galileo cooperation. The Pentagon’s main concern was that a technical agreement that moved PRS off of the M-code band be worked out simultaneously (rather than subsequently) with the overall pact.

The present policy framework, while meeting the immediate needs of GPS programs, is founded on presidential directives that essentially were responding to past events and external developments. Should the time come for an Obama turn at GPS policy, it might benefit from the “forward-looking” spin that the new president often puts on his initiatives.

One focal point for such a venture could by the National PNT Architecture that DoT’s RITA and DoD’s National Security Space Office are shepherding through the bureaucratic maze under an interagency agreement. Architecture plan advocates would like to see the United States achieve a robust system-of-systems mix of PNT technologies over the next 15-20 years that would give GPS (and GNSS) a leading, but far from exclusive role. An effective plan would guide near- and middle-term investment decisions by agencies with PNT responsibilities.

Uncivil Agencies, Unequal Equities
And then there is the perennial question of civil equities and the contribution of civil agencies to support the costs of post-L5 civil modernizations, as mandated by the 2004 presidential policy.

The profusion of GPS activities within civil agencies often produces confusion in intra-agency responsibilities. This fragmentation of activities and constituencies causes confusion and competition. Especially when it comes to money, civil agencies often compare unfavorably with the apparent unity of DoD GPS interests.

For example, DoD (as well as DHS and the Department of Veterans Affairs) is operating under a full FY09 budget approved in legislation last September. As often occurs, the rest of the federal government is operating under a continuing resolution that provides funds at the same level as FY08 through early March 2009.

An immediate complication for civil GPS is that its scheduled contribution is $20.7 million in FY09 (from the FAA budget), but its FY08 level was $7.2 million. The FY09 legislation provides that “Funds available to the Department of Defense for the Global Positioning System during the current fiscal year may be used to fund civil requirements associated with the satellite and ground control segments of such system’s modernization program."

Although civil GPS leaders expect an FY09 budget or budgetary relief to be worked out over the next few months, the situation underscores the recurring dependency under which non-defense agencies labor. (In contrast, the FY09 funding bill allocated $136 million to the DoD for GPS procurement and $819 million for GPS-related R&D.)

One possible alternative would be to assess small fees ($1 or less) on GPS chips or receivers — a practice that the Galileo program is seriously considering — and use these proceeds to pay for civil improvements. A final topic that might bear watching is possible restoration of a National Space Council, as operated under the elder George Bush presidency, and the implications that might have for the PNT ExCom process itself.

Whatever the content, an Obama administration might want to kick the status of the next presidential policy on GPS up a notch: to an executive order that has more binding authority on departmental leaders.

Despite the fact that DoD is a single agency, differences often arise between the Pentagon as the PNT policy and funding conduit, the U.S. Air Force as the executive agency for GPS, and the military services with their differing requirements.

One emerging issue is the timeline for fielding modernized military GPS user equipment (MGUE). Some Pentagon officials fear that the GPS Wing will not meet its own schedule for full rate production of MGUE platforms for air, land, and sea users. (See sidebar, “Future Waypoints.”)

A 2006 mandate signed by Grimes called for most MGUE to be available by 2014, when the 24th M-code satellite is declared operational. “One of our greatest challenges is supplying the warfighter with affordable advanced military user equipment and protecting them from jamming, deception jamming, and unintentional interference,” notes the 2008 report on GPS that went to Congress over Grimes’s signature.

Another dividing line may be over the question of whether space-based PNT is effectively just GPS by a fancier name, or whether it is GPS plus other PNT systems and technologies, as envisioned by the national Architecture initiative.

Us versus Them
If ambivalence about realizing the dual-use goals of GPS pervades the domestic realm, it amplifies itself many times over in the international realm, where GPS is one among several GNSSes. Are Galileo, GLONASS, and Compass friends or foes, competitors or collaborators, helpers or hindrances to meeting the nation’s PNT goals?

If the 1996 policy grew out of a world view of a unilateral U.S. role in GNSS, the 2004 directive stemmed from a clear understanding that it had become a multi-system world and, with the rise of terrorism, a darned unsafe one.

Under the recent Bush presidency, the image of the United States in the eyes of many other nations and their willingness to work with it deteriorated markedly. Obama — with his personal popularity overseas (so far) and an internationalist perspective wrought by his upbringing — may have a good chance to reverse, or at least ameliorate, that situation.

In the GPS realm, that cause is already well advanced. The creation of the International Committee on GNSS (ICG) with strong U.S. support, including its GNSS Providers Forum (a development encouraged by the DoD), has established a forum for multilateral efforts in such areas as compatibility, interoperability, and common signals.

Bilateral initiatives, often revolving around security and trade issues, are solidly under way with all of the other system operators except China, where only a few rounds of bilateral talks on signal compatibility have taken place.

Relations with China overall will pose a sizable and complex challenge to the new U.S. president. The security issues associated with GNSS technology make this a particular prickly subject.

And the lack of transparency in China’s Compass program, its effective control by the People’s Liberation Army (China’s defense establishment), and unexpected events such as China’s January 2007 anti-satellite test (ASAT) have combined to limit face-to-face talks on the subject.

The constraints on bilateral approaches to China have made the success of the ICG thus far all the more important and noteworthy. Although the most recent ICG meeting in Pasadena, California, in early December marked the return of a more cautious mode, it probably reflected a desire to digest and sort out the surprising advances made in the previous meeting in Bangalore, India.

How far this internationalist impulse might carry GPS is yet to be determined. On the one hand, it might go as far as the joint secretariat established for the COSPAR/SARSAT with voluntary contributions to handle paperwork (glossary, terms of reference) and exchange information on system operations.

On the other, it could remain a series of arm’s length relationships that manage to reduce the inevitable conflicts that arise among systems operating in a common physical and technological space.

A New Regime
Overall, GPS is in a good place, with a sound foundation from the past eight years of work. But much of the current policy is designed for old situations and problems.

Management and advocacy of the system is divided in all ways: civil, military and within agencies. Markets and applications are exploding, underscoring the system’s status as a critical infrastructure — as does the geopolitical situation. And competition from other GNSS providers is growing.

This is all a good thing — a critical infrastructure on solid footing, but a little behind the times, with competitors goading the U.S. leadership (so, it’s not a good time to relax).

What is needed now is a new, strong advocate, a GPS/PNT champion who can connect the dots and make sure the Obama administration knows what’s at stake.

The situation is a little like that at the beginning of the biblical Exodus story:  “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”

Somebody’s got to go tell the King.

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