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Persuasive Arts

Glen Gibbons
At the end of the day, someone needs to bless the agreements worked out in far-flung facilities where the work of Position Navigation and Timing (PNT) program development takes place.

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Formation of the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and
Timing Executive Committee (PNT ExCom) three years ago occurred under
circumstances as awkward as its interminable name.

Set up under the direction of a new presidential policy announced at the end of 2004, the ExCom and its National Coordination Office (NCO) emerged into an environment of proliferating user groups from every field of endeavor — all demanding service provision and protection for their unique PNT applications.

Inside the federal establishment loomed the usual perils — agency fiefdoms, constituencies, political patrons in Congress, budget battles.

The historical context seemed equally inauspicious. ExCom superseded an Interagency GPS Executive Board (IGEB) brought into existence by President Clinton’s GPS Presidential Decision Directive of 1996.

Underfunded, understaffed, under-attended by under and assistant secretaries of departments or an ever-changing cast of designees, the IGEB had served largely as a general-purpose information and promotional vehicle for GPS.

In eight years of existence, it had convened formal meetings only a handful of times. (In contrast, the PNT ExCom has met eight times since January 2006.)

When the full IGEB gathered, middle-level departmental representatives often couldn’t respond quickly to an issue because it fell under the responsibility of another official at their agencies.

The IGEB did help finance development of the new civil signal, L1C, and contributed to the general advancement of GPS modernization.

(In a welcome retention of GNSS expertise, IGEB’s long-time executive director, David Turner, recently was appointed as deputy director of the State Department’s Office of Space and Advanced Technology. There he succeeds Ken Hodgkins, who moved up to directorship of the office after Ralph Braibanti retired last fall.)

So, how’s the new PNT team working out?

Fortunately, the 2004 policy elevated PNT responsibilities to the deputy secretary level, and the ExCom has benefited in particular from the vigorous approach that Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert England has brought as the group’s co-chair.

A full-fledged and well-staffed secretariat — the NCO, headed by Mike Shaw and staffed by representatives from the ExCom’s member organizations — has also made a difference.

Sometimes it helps to be an insider. Even though originally from Montana, which is about as far outside the Capitol Beltway as one can get, Shaw has served in key GPS-related positions at both civil and military agencies: project lead for GPS implementation in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); assistant for GPS, positioning, and navigation in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communication, and Intelligence (C3I); and finally director of navigation and spectrum policy in the Office of the Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy.

Having a little GPS history and sensitivities to the civil/military equities involved can go a long way toward unraveling problems.

The transparency of the process brings a good deal of peer pressure on ExCom members to carry through on the obligations they have signed up for.

Negotiations can take place between the operative organizations within DoD and DoT, but someone needs to keep track, nudge, mediate, and — at the end of the day — bless the agreements worked out in far-flung facilities where the work of program development takes place.

As that well-known political commentator Woody Allen once observed, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

Add to that the caveat of getting the right people to show up and we have a start on understanding the PNT initiative’s progress so far.

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

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