Congressional Hearing on Federal Radionavigation Plan – What’s the Issue?

July 14, 2015

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee announced this week that it will hold a hearing on the 28th of July at ten o’clock in room 2253 of the Rayburn Building. According to the announcement, it will be “A Hearing on the Federal Radionavigation Plan, H.R. 1684, the Foreign Spill Protection Act, and H.R. —-, the National Icebreaker Fund Act of 2015.”

The first topic, the Federal Radionavigation Plan, is of great interest to members and followers of the RNT Foundation. Published every two years and required by law, it is self described as “…the official source for radionavigation policy and planning for the Federal Government…”

For such a bland sounding document, it has been surprisingly controversial.

For example, the 2008 edition of the plan, which was released in 2009, described GPS vulnerability as a significant problem, reported that the government had decided to retain Loran-C in operation, and that DHS would convert the system to the more precise and less expensive eLoran. Yet less than a year later the US abruptly announced that it would terminate all Loran transmissions. This caused diplomatic incidents as Canadian and Russian Loran systems cooperated with and depended upon US stations. Termination of US signals caused these nations and others major technical difficulties and abrogated several international agreements. The announcement also caught several small US companies by surprise and resulted in their demise.

The 2010 edition of the plan (which came out in 2011) and 2012 edition (issued in 2013) both continued to describe the problem of GPS vulnerability and indicated that “the plan” was for DHS to study the issue. The result of this study, was reported by a DHS official speaking to the National PNT Advisory Board in 2013. He said that the department had done a partial National Risk Estimate, found dependence on GPS and its vulnerabilityto be a huge issue for critical infrastructure, but didn’t have any more money and had no intention of addressing the problem any further.

At a congressional hearing on the topic in February 2014, Chairman Duncan Hunter decried DHS’s response to Congress’ questions on the issue by saying “They did a study that says they need to do another study!” He would have been doubly outraged if he had known that DHS’ interest in even doing another study was non-existent.

Chairman Hunter and Ranking Member Garamendi have also shown great concern and frustration that, after eleven years, no action has been taken to comply with the 2004 presidential directive (endorsed and reaffirmed by President Obama) to acquire a backup system for GPS (NSPD-39).

The 2014 edition of the Federal Radionavigation Plan was, of course, released in May of this year. Not surprisingly, it fails to outline “a plan” for either addressing GPS vulnerability or complying with the Presidential mandate to acquire a backup system.

The announcement of a hearing on the 28th of July doesn’t say why the Federal Radionavigation Plan is being discussed. But for anyone familiar with the document and the issues it doesn’t need to.

It will be interesting to see who the administration sends to testify, hear what they have to say, and to learn if, after all this time, the federal government is going to finally act to address this ever growing threat to our nation’s critical infrastructure.

See Announcement