U.S. Space-Based PNT Executive Leadership to Change - Inside GNSS - Global Navigation Satellite Systems Engineering, Policy, and Design

U.S. Space-Based PNT Executive Leadership to Change

A top leadership change is under way at one of the most important U.S. GPS policy and management organizations, the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Coordination Office (NCO).

Anthony (Tony) Russo, who has served as NCO director for the past three years — and as deputy director for two years before that, has accepted a new position with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

A top leadership change is under way at one of the most important U.S. GPS policy and management organizations, the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Coordination Office (NCO).

Anthony (Tony) Russo, who has served as NCO director for the past three years — and as deputy director for two years before that, has accepted a new position with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Russo led the office, which supports the Space-Based PNT Executive Committee (ExCom) through some of the GPS community’s most challenging times, including an effort by would-be wireless broadband provider LightSquared to set up shop in an RF band next to GPS and other GNSS services. He helped lead efforts to confront a British military commercialization office’s attempt to patent the signal structure on which next-generation GPS and Galileo civil signals will be based.

Russo’s last day at the NCO will be December 14.  Two days later, his successor — Dr. Jan Brecht-Clark — will take up her responsibilities as NCO director.

Brecht-Clark recently completed a 19-month assignment as the transportation counselor with the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.  She previously held the position of associate administrator for research, development, and technology at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA).

Before that posting she was most recently deputy director for compliance for the Transportation Security Administration. Brecht-Clark previously served as director of aviation and transportation security on the White House Homeland Security Council, director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Office of Aviation Security Policy and Planning, and deputy director of FAA’s Office of Aviation Research.

At NASA, Russo will become chief program engineer in the Space Communications and Navigation Division, where he will continue to be involved with GPS and GNSS issues — such the NASA-supported International GNSS Service, although on the technical side of things. But his focus will be expanded to include such programs as NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS).

It’s the fulfillment of a long-held dream for Russo. “I’ve wanted to work for NASA since I was a kid,” he told Inside GNSS.

The new posting, while still within the federal government’s Senior Executive Service, marks a return to Russo’s roots in engineering and technology after many years dealing with civil and military policy issue. After gaining an engineering and space physics degree from Lehigh University and a master’s in systems engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology, Russo started out as a flight test engineer and test program director.

He then switched over to more technology policy-oriented roles at the Air Force Space Command, Strategic Command (STRATCOM), and the Pentagon, before being detailed to the PNT NCO five years ago via a RITA posting. There he led an interagency staff that provides strategic advice, coordination, and outreach regarding policies, architectures, requirements, and resource allocations for maintaining and improving the U.S. space-based PNT infrastructure.

LightSquared and Civil Signal Patent Controversies
Russo was midway into his NCO directorship, coordinating interagency staff support for the ExCom (composed of nine deputy secretary–level representatives from nine federal departments and agencies), when the LightSquared controversy emerged in late 2010.

In the interval between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched an abbreviated approval process for the wireless broadband company’s plan to build up to 40,000 high-powered ground transmitters that would broadcast in the 1526–1559 MHz band immediately below GPS L1, threatening interference to GNSS receivers. Russo learned of the effort on December 21 and had less than two weeks to coordinate an ExCom response to the proposal.

It was one of his proudest moments during his term at the NCO.

“The GPS team came together to handle the spectrum issues,” pulled together from many agencies,” not just those represented on the ExCom, he said. “Our office kicked that effort off.”

The NCO had to reach and elicit responses from nine deputy secretaries — the second-ranking officials in their organizations — by January 5, 2011 to meet the FCC deadline for comments. “We were literally contacting people while they were on vacations with their families,” he said.

Later that month, the FCC granted initial approval for the LightSquared plan, but as a result of the PNT ExCom and GPS industry efforts, the agency conditioned that authorization on an investigation of whether the terrestrial transmissions would adversely affect GPS receivers. Over the following year, a Technical Working Group set up under the FCC’s order found that, in fact, Lightsquared’s terrestrial network would cause serious problems for many GNSS receivers. The NCO engineering forum conducted its own test program, which reached the same conclusion.

On February 15, 2012, the FCC announced plans to vacate its original order authorizing the LightSquared plan. The company, which subsequently filed for bankruptcy, is continuing efforts to get access to spectrum that would allow it to roll out its network without interfering with GPS receivers in the near term

The DoT recently gave the "GPS Spectrum Protection Team," including Russo, its Partnering for Excellence Award, the second-highest award granted by the department, for its role in the LightSquared controversy.

In another hot topic that arose earlier this year, Russo and the NCO got involved in efforts to prevent the commercialization arm of the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) from securing patents on key elements of the new civil signal (the multiplex binary offset carrier or MBOC) planned for GPS and Galileo. This would have enabled Ploughshare Innovations, a wholly owned subsidiary of the research and development division of the MoD, to seek license fees or royalties on use of the signals. Strenuous, but private, U.S. diplomatic efforts appear to have gotten the British ministry to back away from the patent initiative.

More Work Still Ahead
Despite the favorable outcomes to these threats to the GNSS community, Russo says that much work and continuing challenges await the NCO and Brecht-Clark.

In a January 13, 2012, letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the cochairs of PNT ExCom said that “no practical solutions or mitigation” would enable a proposed broadband network to co-exist near-term with GPS-based devices.

At the same time, the deputy secretaries of the U.S. defense and transportation departments who cochair the ExCom, proposed “to draft new GPS Spectrum interference standards that will help inform future proposals for non-space, commercial uses in the bands adjacent to the GPS Signals and ensure that any such proposals are implemented without affecting existing and evolving uses of space-based PNT services vital to economic, public safety, scientific, and national security needs.”

The NTIA is leading that spectrum-sharing investigation and established a separate task force coordinated by the agency’s head engineer Edgar Drocella. The task force has met twice with PNT NCO participation and is still framing the technical assumptions and study architecture.

“A lot of technical work is still ahead,” Russo says, which will require the interagency ExCom and NCO to remain engaged with the issue. “[The task force members] are going to reach out to industry once we have a product that is mature enough.”
Other issues awaiting Brecht-Clark include the issue of contributions to the funding of GPS modernization efforts that benefit civil users, which have recently encountered obstacles.

Money is also an issue for the NCO itself. The office has a $1.5 million annual budget that covers staff and day-to-day operations but leaves nothing for handling situations such things as the testing required for the LightSquared effort, spectrum protection, or receiver performance standards.

Russo compares his office’s funding with that of the Interagency GPS Executive Board (IGEB), the predecessor to the PNT NCO, which had a lower level of participation from department officials but received a $4.5 million annual budget that financed a broader range of GPS “stewardship” efforts. The fact that the PNT NCO has no permanent personnel but only staff detailed from other agencies — a “coalition of the willing,” as Russo puts it — further exacerbates the situation.

Another topic that may raise issues in the future is the somewhat separate governance structure for space-based PNT through the ExCom and NCO and the federal government’s broader PNT policy and management reflected in the Federal Radionavigation Plan (FRP), which is coordinated outside the NCO.

Preparing a Successor
Russo expresses confidence in Brecht-Clark’s ability to take on the challenges of the interagency NCO and ExCom.

He points out that she worked on civil/military issues — a key aspect of dealing with the dual-use GPS program — while on the White House staff and, during her time at the FAA’s Office of Aviation Security Policy and Planning, participated in sorting out air transportation security issues in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Moreover, unlike the seven-month gap that intervened between the departure of Russo’s NCO predecessor, Mike Shaw, and his assuming the directorship — an interregnum that saw the office lose money and personnel, Brecht-Clark will take over after only a one-day interval.

In recent weeks, she has been sitting in on NCO staff meetings and “shadowing” Russo as he winds up affairs there. Russo is also leaving behind a well-populated Rolodex of contacts throughout the federal government as well as industry.

“She can rely on my Rolodex,” he says, to help Brecht-Clark find expertise and allies for the days ahead.