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GAO Fires Warning On GPS

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"It is uncertain whether the Air Force will be able to acquire new satellites in time to maintain current GPS service without interruption," warns the GAO. "If not, some military operations and some civilian users could be adversely affected." The report, issued April 30, notes the Air Force's struggle to successfully build satellites on time and on budget. According to the GAO, the Air Force is running $870 million over its original cost estimate and has delayed the launch of its next satellite (now scheduled for November 2009) by almost three years. As old satellites begin to fail, it is increasingly important that the Air Force does not fall behind its current schedule. Otherwise, warns the GAO, there is increased likelihood that by 2010, "the overall GPS constellation will fall below the number of satellites required to provide the level of GPS service that the U.S. government commits to." That shortfall "could have wide-ranging impacts on all GPS users." While many of the potential problems rely on the Air Force's success working with a new contractor, the GAO has made recommendations.

The GAO recognizes that there is no single authority responsible for synchronizing procurement and field-related facets of GPS-asset deployment and recommends that one be appointed and granted suitable authority to ensure the service meets the needs of users. And, just in case potential delays turn into real delays, the GAO recommends that the Secretaries of Defense and Transportation should address civil agency concerns and determine mechanisms for improving collaboration and decision-making while strengthening civil agency participation.

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