Who’s In Charge? – PNT Protection in US Leaderless, According to Some

September 27, 2016

Discussing his agency’s efforts to protect GPS and the Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services it provides, a government official was recently quoted saying that a major problem was that the issues were decentralized and so many agencies were involved. His intimation was that “no one’s in charge.”

With the exception of attempts to protect spectrum, that is our observation also.  Numerous government agencies are making minor and mostly uncoordinated efforts to protect GPS and PNT with little effect. None has undertaken a significant effort to address the problems of disruption of PNT services, over reliance on GPS, and its lack of resiliency. This is undoubtedly due to a lack of federal leadership and poor governance.

On one hand, this assertion might seem unfair. In 2004 President Bush established a very clear governance mechanism for “Space-Based PNT” in National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 39, which President Obama reaffirmed in 2009. The directive calls for the Deputy Secretaries of Defense and Transportation to lead an Executive Committee comprised of senior officials from a wide variety of departments, agencies, and White House staffs with interests in PNT. This group has met every six months or so for the last 12 years and has a full time staff to carry out its tasks and direction in between meetings.

On the other hand, committees, especially senior, government, inter-department committees, are not well known for getting things done. While many of the tasks listed in NSPD-39 have been completed, most of the more difficult and expensive have not. Not surprisingly, these incomplete tasks are also the ones most important to protecting GPS/PNT services. Things like:

“Develop improved, dedicated national security positioning, navigation, and timing capabilities, including but not limited to more diverse, flexible, and capable signals and services;”

“…identify, locate, and attribute any interference within the United States…”

“…develop a central repository and database for reports of domestic and international interference…”

“…develop, acquire, operate, and maintain backup position, navigation, and timing capabilities that can support critical transportation, homeland security, and other critical civil and commercial infrastructure applications within the United States, in the event of a disruption of the Global Positioning System or other space-based positioning, navigation, and timing services…”

Twelve years on, these exceptionally important tasks have yet to be completed. In fact, most have yet to be started. Yet, to date, few officials have been taken to task, no one has been fired, and none have been disciplined.

Committees do have their place bringing together diverse interests and views. But at the end of the day, a leader is needed. Someone to be responsible, and to be held responsible, for keeping America safe.