No “Happy Talk”

Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) admonished Air Force space acquisition director, Maj. Gen. Neil McCasland, to refrain from engaging in “happy talk” as he discussed the status of the Global Positioning System during a May 7 House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing. Tierney, chairman of the committee’s national security and foreign affairs panel, and other panel members were highly critical of the GPS IIF acquisition program, which is at least three years behind schedule and more than twice as expensive as originally estimated, and how that has contributed to a potential gap in GPS coverage cited in a recent Government Accountability Office report. Although GAO’s Cristina Chaplain testified that USAF is “on a good track to meet the schedule” for the follow-on GPS III satellites, she cautioned that GPS III is “in its early stages” and a plan to shave off three years is questionable because “no major space program in recent years has been delivered on time.” GAO believes that even if GPS IIF and GPS III both keep to their current schedules, there is likely a 20 percent chance the constellation will fall below 24 satellites. McCasland acknowledged the basic accuracy of GAO’s assumption, however, he said USAF has “many choices that will allow us … over the next few years” to prevent such a gap. He emphasized, too, that USAF has “taken steps to ensure” the circumstances that led to over-cost and behind schedule problems with GPS IIF, now slated for launch in the first half of Fiscal 2010, “aren’t being repeated on the GPS block III.” (McCasland written testimony; Chaplain written testimony)