GPS funding in flux
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- Jul 10, 2000
Funding for a critical but inexpensive enhancement to the Global Positioning
System will be decided by a conference committee following conflicting Senate
and House proposals.
The Senate wants to fully fund the Nationwide Differential Global Positioning
System (NDGPS) in 2001, but the House has provided no funding for the system.
NDGPS is a nationwide network of transmitters, which, combined with
the Coast Guard's differential GPS, will provide position accuracy within
less than a meter. It reuses equipment and property no longer needed for
the Air Force Ground Wave Emergency Network.
Despite its relatively low price of about $40 million, NDGPS has struggled
to find sponsorship in the Transportation Department and funding from Congress.
In 2000, NDGPS received $5 million, half of the president's request. The
Federal Highway Administration asked for $18.7 million for NDGPS in its
2001 budget request for highway research and development programs.
"NDGPS has the potential, with a national investment of less than $40
million, to generate economic returns in the billions," said Jules McNeff,
a director of the U.S. GPS Industry Council and a former Defense Department
GPS official. "It's a no-brainer."
The system has maintained a low profile compared with two other satellite-based
navigation systems being developed by the Federal Aviation Administration.
In the past, NDGPS has been pitted against the FAA's Wide-Area Augmentation
System (WAAS), a network of ground reference stations that correct and verify
GPS signals and broadcast them to receivers on aircraft, and the Local-Area
Augmentation System (LAAS), a similar system that provides GPS information
in and around airports. NDGPS differs from both systems in being designed
for land-based navigation, McNeff said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to share the use
of NDGPS with DOT for improved weather forecasting and climate monitoring.
NOAA requires that barometers and thermometers be located at a GPS site
to collect GPS and meteorological data in near real time.
The system also will be used by DOT to create more efficient railroad
operations and intelligent highway systems.
The House Appropriations Committee, which gave NDGPS no funding, gave
$75 million to WAAS, a problematic program now estimated to cost $3.7 billion.
The House gave LAAS $31 million for fiscal 2001.
The Senate passed its version of the bill on June 15. NDGPS is fully
funded at $18.7 million, but the funding comes out of the FAA instead of
the FHWA, as President Clinton had requested.
"The [Senate Appropriations] Committee has expressed concern over the
last 2 years that, while system benefits directly accrue to the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and many other federal, state and
local agencies have public safety and mapping needs that will be indirectly
aided by the availability of a differential GPS system, DOT is the only
federal agency that requests appropriated funds for the development and
operation of the NDGPS system," the committee's report stated.
The committee directed in its version of the bill that DOT and the Commerce
Department develop a cost-sharing plan and deliver it to Congress by July
31. It also directed that the plan to be reflected in the two departments'
budget requests for fiscal 2002. "The committee will not support an ongoing
commitment to annual operating costs for the NDGPS system if DOT remains
the only federal entity which directly supports those operations," the report
The Senate bill funds WAAS at $73 million and LAAS at $37 million,
consistent with the revised FAA estimates.
By the end of this calendar year, 23 decommissioned Air Force Ground
Wave Emergency Network transmitting sites will have been converted to a
differential GPS system and integrated into the nationwide network. DOT
plans to establish an additional 28 sites in fiscal 2001, and the remaining
16 sites to complete the national system will be established in fiscal 2002.
There is an estimated annual operating cost of $6.9 million for operating
and maintaining the NDGPS.
The DOT agency pushing hardest for NDGPS is the Federal Railroad Administration,
which would be able to create more efficient routes and save money using
the enhanced GPS data.
However, Richard Schamberger, NDGPS program sponsor at FRA, said he
is trying to help create an awareness and understanding of the universal
benefits of the system.
NDGPS would provide every citizen with information about where they
are going and how to get there at no user charge, he said. "This is something
that's good for the country."