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House Lawmakers Cut Civil GPS Funding across the Board

May 18, 2015
Inside GNSS, May/June 2015

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The House Appropriations Committee voted May 13 to cut the White House request for civil GPS funding and a number of other GPS-related program at the Dept. of Transportation.

The committee slashed the $27 million request for civil GPS monies by more than 60 percent — to just $10 million. Although GPS is a military program, it has enormous commercial and civil benefits, which are furthered by adding design elements Pentagon mangers would not otherwise incorporate. The civil funding is supposed to help offset the costs of additional system improvements — most especially some aspects of the new operational control segment (OCX).

Congress (and, on occasion, the White House Office of Budget and Management), however, have slashed the civil contribution in each of the last half a dozen years to the point that it is now more that $100 million short of what was promised to the Pentagon when the arrangement was crafted. Defense officials have made clear the continued shortage will contribute to delays in developing the new ground system, which is essential to modernization of the entire constellation for both sets of users.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), for which the White House requested a total of $107.1 million, was also cut — in this case by 13 percent to $93.6 million. It appeared at first that Congress gave the program a boost, but lawmakers incorporated $26.6 million in leasing fees for three satellites that support the service with the rest of the program in their calculation. So, two budget lines in the request that totaled $107.1 million became one budget line in the response funded at $93.6 million — an overall cut of $13.5 million.

The committee elected to cut the total $26.5 million requested for the NextGen Separation Management back to $18 million and stressed in the report accompanying the bill that committee members viewed automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS–B) “as a means to enhance safety, increase capacity, and further the Equip 2020 initiative through early benefits.” ADS-B provides automatic reports of position, speed, and trajectory to air traffic controllers and other suitably equipped aircraft to avoid collisions and improve flight operations.

The committee said that the $5 million requested for ADS-B should be included in the $18 million for NextGen, FAA’s sweeping satellite-based modernization program, and directed the FAA to “identify resources from unobligated Facilities and Equipment funds to ensure the agency will be able to keep pace with neighboring air navigation service providers in adjacent oceanic airspace who have committed to using space-based ADS–B in 2018 to track aircraft and offer reduced separation services over the oceans.”

A $1 million request for Alternate Positioning, Navigation and Timing (APNT) — essentially, a backup for GPS — had been submitted as part of the NextGen Separation Management budget line. It remains unclear how this funding arrangement will affect APNT’s prospects.

RITA Gets Slapped
Funding for the Department of Transportation (DoT) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology — incorporating the former Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) that has played a crucial role in numerous GPS initiatives — received harsh treatment from lawmakers.

The House cut the $14.6 million that the Administration asked for the Research and Technology office to $11.4 million, a nine percent reduction, which will almost certainly affect a $5.6 million funding request for the Nationwide Differential Global Positioning System, which is within the office’s budget.  The funding is lower even than that allocated for this fiscal year (FY15) when lawmakers approved a total of $13.0 million. The funding for the office in FY14 was $14.8 million.

That same cut will likely affect the research and technology office’s $1.6 million budget for PNT activities, which includes work on the Adjacent-Band Compatibility Assessment (ABC) <http://www.insidegnss.com/node/4437>. The ABC Assessment aims to identify the amount of power users of frequencies near those carrying GPS and other GNSS signals can emit without impacting navigation and timing. The assessment, which was delayed more than a year by lack of funding, sprang from the failure of LightSquared to win quick approval of its proposal to rezone spectrum near GPS frequencies for a new wireless broadband network.

Not only did the committee cut money for the office but it rebuked DoT for its broader budget request, which it described as containing “a number of new offices, FTE [full-time equivalent employees], and programs” that were “nothing but bureaucratic redundancy,” including “a new group of data and technology experts.”

The committee report criticized the request at length, stating, “Nowhere in the budget justifications for the creation of these new offices did the Department describe what savings would be achieved by the creation of new offices. Instead, the Department offered that these new offices would exist to oversee and coordinate with existing offices, or formalize and expand on working groups already working well. The Committee seeks to streamline Department operations and eliminate waste and duplication in order to keep down the costs of government. The Committee directs OST [Office of Secretary of Transportation] specifically, and the Department as a whole generally, to look across the various offices to identify how to better coordinate crosscutting issues within existing resources.”

The committee took particular issue with the Research and Technology Office, directing the Secretary of Transportation to “give a serious look to how the Office of Policy, the Research and Technology office, and the Transportation Planning, Research and Development office can realign their existing resources to better meet critical and relevant issues and avoid redundancy and duplication.”

“There are plenty of resources in terms of FTE and funds,” the appropriators wrote in the report. “The Department needs to better align those resources to address the Nation’s priorities.”

Copyright © 2015 Gibbons Media & Research LLC, all rights reserved.

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