Cross-Agency Collaboration Helps Protect, Promote & Enhance GPS
By: J. David Grossman, Executive Director, GPS Innovation Alliance
September 5, 2019
There are many reasons the Global Positioning System (GPS) has become the gold standard for availability, accuracy, reliability and resiliency. Chief among them is a stable U.S. policy and federal law, combined with the unique expertise of various U.S. federal government agencies, who work collaboratively to protect, promote and enhance GPS. The U.S. Air Force has the high visibility role as the steward of the GPS constellation. This 24/7 mission is the responsibility of the 2nd Space Operations Squadron, located at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado. What may be less familiar to some, is the role of more than a half dozen other agencies and departments who support the GPS program in critical areas such as day-to-day policymaking, technical standards and international coordination.
Previously, we have examined the U.S. Coast Guard’s role as the general public’s point of contact for reporting problems with the civil GPS signal. Earlier this year, we also discussed the role of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on spectrum policy. In today’s feature, we’d like to explore the leadership role the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Office of Space Commerce, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Executive Office of the President take when it comes to GPS.
Logically, we start with the DOT—the lead civilian agency for GPS-related issues within the federal government. Among their many responsibilities, the agency provides support for new civil GPS capabilities and operates the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), a navigation tool used by pilots to augment GPS. In coordination with the Department of Defense (DOD), the DOT also co-chairs the National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT), which is responsible for coordinating GPS policy across the U.S. government.
With a mission to “foster the conditions for the economic growth and technological advancement of the U.S. commercial space industry,” the current Administration relaunched the Office of Space Commerce under the Department of Commerce (DOC). This office serves as the permanent home of interagency staff who focus on GPS policy issues, including staff from the DOD, DOT, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of the Interior (DOI), Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of State (DOS), and of course the DOC. The Office of Space Commerce was also responsible for the recently released report examining how the space sector utilizes spectrum. This forward-looking examination of the steps needed to promote innovation and global competitiveness, correctly recommends protecting space operations, including GPS from harmful interference.
As expected, NASA plays a critical role in operating the Global Differential GPS System (GDGPS) and developing new GPS technologies for use in space. In fact, NASA’s plan to bring American astronauts back to the moon by 2024 will be supported in part by GPS. NASA also serves as the sponsor of the National Space-Based PNT Advisory Board, a committee of appointed representatives that includes Garmin’s Scott Burgett and Trimble’s Ann Ciganer. The PNT Advisory board provides valuable advice to the U.S. government on GPS-related issues. On November 20-21, 2019, the Board will host their bi-annual meeting, which is open to the public.
The National Space Council, housed under the Executive Office of the President, was recently reestablished under an Executive Order signed on June 30, 2017. Chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, with Dr. Scott Pace as Executive Secretary, the Council has been tasked with “provid[ing] a coordinated process for developing and monitoring the implementation of national space policy and strategy.” As part of GPSIA’s “GPS 101” briefing, held earlier this year on Capitol Hill, we were honored to hear remarks from the Council’s Director of National Security Space Policy, Col. Curtis Hernandez who provided valuable insights on the future of GPS.
Across the federal government, there are hundreds of employees dedicated to ensuring the continuous availability and integrity of the GPS signal. GPSIA is deeply appreciative of these efforts and will continue to partner with these agencies to ensure consumers and businesses can count on a GPS signal always being there when they need it the most.