Congress eliminates funding for new civilian GPS signal

Despite objections by the Clinton administration, Congress this week passed a Transportation Department spending bill that eliminates all funding for a new high-precision satellite signal for use by civilian users of the Global Positioning System.

Lawmakers agreed to the funding cut during a House/Senate conference session held to iron out differences between the two bodies' initial versions of the DOT fiscal 2000 appropriations bill.

Neal Lane, assistant to the president for science and technology, last month warned that if Congress did not restore the $17 million for the new GPS civilian signal, it would "delay modernization for five years."

The $17 million represents a down payment on the $400 million that DOT needs to provide for the modernization of the GPS constellation, which was built and managed by the Defense Department to guide precision munitions. GPS has been embraced by civil users worldwide, who tap into the existing civil signal for uses ranging from surveying to aircraft navigation.

In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration, part of DOT, has configured development of its next-generation aerial navigation system around GPS and the improved accuracy promised by the second civilian signal.

Daniel Salvation, a top official in the FAA's Office of Communications, Navigation and Surveillance Systems, told a GPS industry conference last month that, in his view, the failure of Congress to provide funding this year for the new civilian signal could delay modernization for up to seven years.

DOD could decide to build and launch a new generation of GPS satellites—which have a life span of more than 10 years—without the electronics needed for a new civil signal. As a result, DOT, the FAA and civil users would have to wait until DOD designed and launched yet another generation of satellites.

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