GPS funding cuts could delay system for five years, official says

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Modernization of the Global Positioning System could face a five-year delay unless Congress restores $17 million in funding that President Clinton asked for in his fiscal 2000 budget, according to top administration officials.

"If Congress has its way, funding will be reduced to zero, and we will miss a window of opportunity that will delay GPS modernization for five years," said Nil Lane, assistant to the president for science and technology.

Lane, here as the keynote speaker for the Institute of Navigation's annual GPS conference, valued the worldwide market for GPS receivers and services at $6 billion a year, adding that congressional inaction could threaten that market and "hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs."

While a relatively small sum in a federal budget measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars, the $17 million, which Congress cut out of the Transportation Department budget, represents a down-payment on an ambitious $400 million-plus program to add new signals to GPS satellites for use by civilian users, including recreational hikers, container ships navigating tight harbors, urban transit systems and the international aviation community.

The Federal Aviation Administration plans to gradually transition aeronautical navigation in U.S.-controlled airspace to GPS systems enhanced by ground reference stations in the next century. Daniel Salvano, acting director of the office of communications, navigation and surveillance systems at the FAA, believes the funding impasse could delay GPS modernization for as much as seven years because DOT will not be able to provide the funds the Defense Department needs to add the new civilian signal package to satellites scheduled for launch between 2002 and 2007. "The funding is required to meet DOD plans to launch the next generation of GPS," Salvano said.

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