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Global Positioning System: Observations on Quarterly Reports from the Air Force

GAO-17-162R Published: Oct 17, 2016. Publicly Released: Oct 17, 2016.
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What GAO Found

The Air Force’s first Global Positioning System (GPS) quarterly report provided important information on some of the programs’ efforts and details about its full and long-term cost, schedule, performance, testing, and risk. The report included individual program schedules and costs for some programs. However, it did not include an integrated master schedule—key information needed to demonstrate the synchronization of all the programs. Additionally, there were gaps and inconsistent reporting of key acquisition measures. For example, the report identified when some risks will be resolved for the GPS III satellite program but not for the next generation operational control system (OCX) and military GPS user equipment (MGUE) programs. Much of the information in the quarterly report duplicated information already available in other reports. However, it is unclear when the data were collected because the information was not marked with a source date—key information to understand its timeliness. Further, the report also lacked a quarterly focus, looking neither forward one quarter nor backward another. Finally, the information on the fourth program, known as Contingency Operations (COps), was insufficient as it was mentioned only as a mitigation strategy for OCX delays. The report provided no information on the Air Force’s acquisition strategy or future milestones, such as the program's planned completion date. 

Transparency could be improved in future reports if the Air Force included some additional information, such as: 

(1) an integrated master schedule that clearly shows synchronization of the four programs;

(2) a forward outlook and details on what to expect for each program over the next 3 to 6 months to gauge progress, such as milestones and key decision points;

(3) updates to expected completion dates noted in previous reports to demonstrate progress and explanations for any deviations;

(4) details on acquisition risks, both at the segment level and across the collective GPS acquisition, including plans to reduce risk and the projected closure date for each risk;

(5) additional context for key data reported, such as the cost estimate source and approval date or the “as of” date for schedule events to ascertain the timeliness of the information;

(6) additional details on the COps program, such as its acquisition strategy and key dates; and

(7) a date to identify each quarterly report to distinguish between reports.

In response to our observations on the first quarterly report, DOD and Air Force officials stated they will make changes starting with the next edition of the GPS quarterly report to improve transparency. GAO will continue to monitor DOD and Air Force efforts to do so. Hence, we are not making any recommendations in this report.

Why GAO Did This Study

The satellite-based GPS provides positioning, navigation, and timing data to users worldwide. GPS is an essential U.S. national security asset and a key component of economic growth, national infrastructure, and transportation safety. For nearly 9 years, the Air Force has been in the process of modernizing all three GPS segments to enhance performance and security. This effort is divided into three major programs to modernize the segments: GPS III, OCX, and MGUE. The warfighter needs all three modernization programs successfully developed and deployed in order to benefit from the M-code signal and increased cybersecurity. As GAO reported in 2015, OCX software development has experienced significant cost growth and schedule delays in the past few years that have subsequently delayed the implementation of M-code and cybersecurity for the military. To mitigate multi-year delays developing OCX and to maintain the current constellation above the minimum of 24 satellites, the Air Force created a fourth program called COps, which according to the Air Force will modify the current GPS ground system to operate the GPS III satellites at a reduced level of functionality until the first block of OCX is deployed.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 contained a provision that the Air Force provide quarterly reports to GAO on the next generation GPS acquisition programs. The Act also contained a provision that GAO brief congressional defense committees on the first report and at GAO’s discretion for subsequent quarterly reports. The Air Force delivered the first quarterly report to GAO on April 22, 2016. GAO assessed the report and briefed congressional committees in June 2016. This report conveys information presented during that briefing on (1) the extent to which the Air Force's report provided transparent information on the GPS acquisition program’s quarterly progress, risks, and short-term acquisition plans; and (2) observations for improving future Air Force quarterly reports on GPS. 

To conduct this work, GAO analyzed the Air Force’s report and assessed it using federal internal control standards, Office of Management and Budget guidance, and prior GAO work regarding the appropriate content to include in such a quarterly report.

For more information, contact Cristina T. Chaplain at (202) 512-4841 or



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