Just when you thought it was safe to toss your trusty Thomas Guide, a report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) says that the existing Global Positioning Satellite infrastructure is in danger of suffering potentially debilitating shutdowns as early as next year. Despite the renovation/upgrading program currently underway, a lack of sufficient replacement hardware, significant ongoing budget overruns and the absence of a truly effective oversight body are combining to jeopardize the ability of the GPS system to operate at a level committed to by the U.S. government. As a result, sporadic black-outs and larger-scale general failures could occur without notice by 2010, making life in the fast lane just a bit slower for those who've come to depend on their in-car navigation systems.
GAO analysts put a sizable chunk of the blame for this situation on the U.S. Air Force, which has primary responsibility for transitioning from the existing and rapidly aging IIF system to new batch of enhanced GPS IIIA satellites. While the Air Force hopes to deploy these next-gen satellites at an accelerated pace, the GAO found that both the timing and implementation costs are likely to remain serious problem areas. It also noted the need to establish a "single point of authority" that would handle overall operations of the space programs and the importance of retaining key operations personnel as two elements that are critical to keeping the GPS grid fully functional in the years ahead.