GAO: GPS Program Improved, But Needs Better Interagency Requirements Planning

GAO: GPS Program Improved, But Needs Better Interagency Requirements Planning

In its latest report on the Global Positioning System (GPS), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) tells Congress that the system is looking better than the last time GAO assessed it, but the process for interagency requirements setting by the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Transportation (DOT) needs improvement.

“The GPS interagency requirements process, which is co-chaired by officials from DOD and DOT, remains relatively untested and civil agencies continue to find the process confusing. This year GAO found that a lack of comprehensive guidance on the GPS interagency requirements process is a key source of this confusion and has contributed to other problems, such as disagreement about and inconsistent implementation of the process. In addition, GAO found that the interagency requirements process relies on individual agencies to identify their own requirements rather than identifying PNT needs across agencies.”

DOD “did not concur” with GAO’s recommendation that the two agencies develop “comprehensive guidance for the interagency requirements process” and DOT “generally agreed to consider it,” according to the report.

As far as the GPS system itself is concerned, GAO noted that the first GPS IIF satellite was launched earlier this year — almost 3 1/2 years late — and future launches of that version of the spacecraft still face risks, as does the follow-on version, GPS IIIA. GAO warned that if GPS IIIA satellite launches are delayed, the size of the constellation could dip below 24, the number needed for global three-dimensional coverage.

The new GPS IIF version was not given a clean bill of health. GAO noted that usually DOD retains some of an older version of a satellite to launch in case problems develop with a new version once it is on-orbit. The previous version of GPS is the GPS IIR-M, but because of the delays with GPS-IIF, all the GPS IIR-Ms have been launched: “Two GPS Wing officials expressed concern that the GPS program is now in a riskier position than it has been for many years because it does not have any IIR-M satellites in inventory and ready to launch.” If the freshly launched GPS IIF spacecraft encounters problems and those in construction need to be modified, launch delays could result, GAO says, not to mention the tight availablity of launch vehicles and facilities.

In short, the congressional watchdog agency seemed to give DOD credit for getting the GPS IIF and IIIA programs on a better footing, but is not willing to give the program a clean bill of health yet.

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