'Considerable confusion' between DHS and DOT on GPS backup

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Nine years after the president called on them to develop a backup system for GPS, the Homeland Security and Transportation departments haven't determined their roles.

"There is considerable confusion and lack of clarity between the agencies about what their roles, responsibilities, and authorities are," the Government Accountability Office says in a Nov. 6 report.

President George W. Bush issued a directive (.pdf) in 2004 that required the agencies to establish a backup system in the event of disruptions to GPS.

DOT officials told auditors that DHS is better suited to lead the effort, given its experience with protection of critical infrastructure. DHS officials said the 2004 directive assigned DOT lead responsibility.

In the directive, the instruction to develop a backup to GPS falls under the Transportation secretary's roles--"in coordination with the secretary of Homeland Security." DHS has its own section, and nearly all of its assignments are in coordination with DOT or other agencies.

DHS and DOT have not decided on outcomes that would satisfy the requirement for a GPS backup, and neither department has consistently monitored its progress, the report says.

DHS officials told auditors that different critical infrastructure sectors might end up with different backup systems. DOT officials said that would be redundant.

The departments don't have a written agreement, such as a memorandum of understanding, that could clarify their roles and set a strategy to develop the backup.

They've also made "limited progress" actually developing a backup, the report says. DHS has yet to identify the requirements for such a system.

One of DHS's assignments under the 2004 directive was to establish a central repository where agencies could report incidents of GPS interference. The Federal Aviation Administration hosts the repository, but it's behind the FAA's firewall, and other agencies cannot access it. DHS plans to fix that by the end of the fiscal year.

In interviews with auditors, GPS experts from academic and research institutions voiced concerns that DHS's organizational structure doesn't give GPS issues enough attention.

The DHS program office leading the GPS resiliency effort exists within the office of the chief information officer. But the department's National Protection and Programs Directorate, which oversees critical infrastructure protection, would be well-suited to fulfill many of the presidential directive's requirements, the report says.

The OCIO staff working on GPS issues were originally hired for other missions, but their roles changed as GPS became more significant.

For more:
- download the report, GAO-14-65 (.pdf)
- download the 2004 directive, "U.S. Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Policy" (.pdf)

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