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GPS Civil Funding

The Check is in the Mail

Not only have the GPS civil program funds been held up for months, but when the promised amount finally arrives, it will —again— be far short of what was budgeted.

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has told those awaiting their slice of the GPS civil program budget that the funds are on the way.

The money, which is supposed to support that portion of the GPS program springing from the needs of civilian users, has been held up for months. In fact, as of late August — with less than 40 days left to go in the fiscal year — the money had not been transferred to either the military’s GPS Directorate or the National Coordination Office (NCO) for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT).

Not only are the funds late, when the promised amount finally does arrive, the total will — again — be far short of what was budgeted.

The reasons for the breakdown have been murky. By all accounts the FAA, which is responsible for the civil funding, has been dragging its feet when it comes to distributing the money. Sources, however, also describe a process that has been complicated by program delays, Defense Department priorities and a Congress that is taking an ever-sharper pencil to government spending.

The funding problems are a particularly touchy issue politically and all of those who agreed to talk about it — experts from both the military and civilian side — requested anonymity to be able to speak freely.

The FAA would just as soon not be involved at all, sources agreed. The agency was tapped by its parent, the Department of Transportation (DoT), after the White House issued its space-based PNT policy at the end of 2004. That policy designated DoT as the responsible agency to provide resources for the “assessment, development, acquisition, implementation, operation, and sustainment of additional designated Global Positioning System civil capabilities beyond the second and third civil signals.”

Having the civil community fund the capabilities it desired gave it leverage when negotiating with the Pentagon — and reined civil requests in a bit. “It’s really easy to say I want something when you don’t have to pay for it,” said one expert.

At the time, said a source, those additional capabilities included the fourth civil signal, L1C, and civil signal monitoring. The earlier civil signals, including L5, were considered to be part of the GPS program and were to be funded by the Defense Department as already planned.

Tougher Than It Looks
Faced with finding both the money and the mechanism to keep funding flowing, a source told Inside GNSS, DoT first looked at distributing the cost across the many transportation offices that benefited from GPS. That plan was ultimately deemed too “high-risk,” especially given that the total budget would have to go through more Congressional committees — each with the power to slice off bits for other programs.

Ultimately DoT decided to fund the entire requirement through FAA. The aviation agency had one of the largest budgets in DoT, a particular interest in GPS, and the staff necessary to manage the requests to Congress and oversee spending. FAA was not happy with the decision, said the expert, who is familiar with the discussions at the time. “FAA did not appreciate being the sole source for the civil funding.”

FAA’s reticence was not just because managing the civil funding would be a lot of work. Multiple sources have confirmed that FAA does not get extra money to cover the new expense — a total of $235.5 million over five years, according to a background paper on civil funding that can be found on the NCO-managed website, gps.gov.

“From the civil perspective that was a significant amount of money,” said one source. “They [FAA] would have to carve that amount of money out of their budget and, frankly, they wanted to spend it on aviation-centric things and not be the sole representative for all the civil funding from which all the civil departments benefited.”

Money Worries
Despite FAA’s misgivings, things went fairly smoothly at first. A total of $7.2 million and $20.7 million was allocated in fiscal year 2008 (FY08) and FY09, respectively, according to the funding profile. The agency asked for and received $43.4 million in FY10.

In fiscal year 2011, however, Congress cut the FAA request of $58.5 million, granting only $38.423 million. That was more of a program adjustment than a cut, however, explained one expert. As part of its responsibility to finance civil monitoring the FAA was partially funding the new GPS ground control segment or OCX. That program had gotten a late start and the money was not yet needed.

“They weren’t ready yet to spend that money in FY11,” said the source. So, the Air Force indicated they could afford to give up that money in the fiscal year as long as they got it back in a future fiscal year.

The money does not, however, appear to have been restored. FAA only got $19 million of the $50.3 million it requested for civil funding in FY12.

“I’ve been on programs before where you weren’t able to spend it one year and then you get punished the next year — even if that’s the year you really need it,” said the source. “Congress looks at it that way — you didn’t use what you asked for and therefore we’re going to take it out.”

Though the Senate did not give a reason for the cuts, the House said the FY12 request was slashed because the Department of Defense (DoD) was holding “a significant unobligated balance in this program.” The same reason was given this summer when the House whacked FAA’s request for $40 million for FY13 back to $15 million. The Senate cut the request to $19 million. The final amount of the cut has yet to be worked out by congressional conferees.

Sources gave several reasons why the civil money lingered in the account without being obligated to a contract. As the GPS Directorate went about its work, it prioritized some pressing tasks ahead of getting the civil funds obligated, said one source, which allowed the money to accumulate.

There was also a lack of clarity on how to allocate the money, said another source. “They don’t know what to spend it on.”

Indeed, Raytheon, the OCX prime contractor, has only recently completed its plan on how to implement FAA’s monitoring requirements in the ground segment. There also appears to be a long running discussion about how FAA’s needs are to be integrated into the constellation and what that means for modernization.

Among the things that the aviation agency was seeking at one point, according to one insider, was the same level of integrity from the GPS satellites as is provided by the total GPS Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS). The level of integrity reflects the probability of getting so-called “hazardously misleading information” about the precise location of aircraft.

The aviation integrity requirement is very tough — a probability at or below 1x10-7 for an approach at the worst time and location in the service volume for which the service is claimed to be available, as summarized in a 2003 paper entitled, “Integrity Lessons from the WAAS Integrity Performance Panel (WIPP),” by Todd Walter and Per Enge of Stanford University and Bruce DeCleene of the FAA.

The GPS constellation has an integrity level of 1x10–5, said the source. The FAA wanted a higher level that required laser crosslinks costing some $29 million to $35 million per satellite. FAA would then have to monitor the system for 10 to 15 years to verify its integrity, the source said, substantially pushing off any benefit. Though the decision is not final, the laser crosslinks will likely be deferred, said the source.

At this point it is not clear how far behind FAA is on getting the amount that it needs to meet its funding obligation. Of the total $235.5 million in the five-year funding profile, Congress has provided only about $119 million.

During discussions at the August meeting of the National Space-Based PNT Advisory Board in Arlington, Kirk Lewis, executive director of the GPS Independent Review Team, mentioned $55 million as the amount of civil monies that the Air Force was still expecting.

Whatever the amount, the original five-year funding period has run its course. The FAA, however, is not abandoning its pledge. Sources confirmed that the FAA and DoD are negotiating a continuation of the funding arrangement.

But It’s Not All in the Mail
In addition to the outright funding shortages, the FAA has been dragging its feet in transferring the funds it has received. As noted earlier, the 2012 funding for National Coordination Office had yet to be sent — forcing cuts including a scaling back of travel, Inside GNSS has learned.

Agreed-to funding also had not been transferred to the GPS Directorate. “There is no question that the program office made its plan based on having that money,” said one source familiar with the problem. “That was their choice . . . and they are having to live with that decision.”

Sources told Inside GNSS that a deal has been worked out to get the money to the program office before the end of the fiscal year.

For the OCX program “FAA has authorized expenditure of all prior year funding ($32M) that was obligated on the contract, plus $2M for FY12,” the FAA said in an emailed response to a query about the funding. The rest of the FY12 money will be transferred as well, sources confirmed.

Sources told Inside GNSS that all the money will be obligated before the end of September. Both FAA and DoD now have a special incentive to quickly push the funding to the appropriate contractors: Should the drastic budget cuts set to kick in at the beginning of next year actually happen, any unobligated money is at risk of being swept up by Congress.

Effects Unclear
Given the long FAA requirements process and the shifting design parameters being handled by the GPS Directorate, it is perhaps understandable that the effect of the civil funding delays on the GPS program are unclear.

None of the sources who discussed the matter with Inside GNSS were able to pinpoint what the lack of money would do to the program. In fact, more than one person said that the GPS Directorate had not issued any kind of assessment on what the cuts would mean.

“The big question,” said one expert, “is ‘How is it going to hurt you, and what is it you are not going to do?’ We don’t have a clue.”

”We have not yet assessed the full impact and rationale of this cut,” confirmed a spokesperson for Air Force Space Command, Space and Missile Systems Center’s Global Positioning Systems Directorate in an emailed statement. “The GPS program office is actively working with DoT/FAA to minimize any impacts to the GPS program based on the proposed funding changes.”

Without a Fight
Multiple sources confirmed that the FAA did not go to Capitol Hill to argue for restoration of the civil GPS money even though the issue of having unobligated funds had, ostensibly, been resolved. Not knowing the consequences of making the cuts may be part of the reason why.

The FAA may also have lacked the information it needed to fight the cuts.

“The executive agency can go back and reclamith — or argue to have a change [cut] undone,” explained a source. “In order to do a reclamith you’ve got to have some really hard facts and data as to what the impact is if I get this or don’t get it. And they don’t have that information. So I can understand full well why the FAA did not go back and reclamith it.”

The FAA may have also been trying to pick its battles in a tight budget year, sources confirmed, and the civil GPS funding involves a relatively small amount money. “They had much bigger fish to fry,” one source pointed out.

Fortunately, a new champion for civil funding could be waiting in the wings. The National Coordination Office apparently may take on that role. The NCO already follows GPS funding closely and, if the agencies agree, sources said, may step up to defend the civil allocations before Congress.

Copyright © 2017 Gibbons Media & Research LLC, all rights reserved.

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