A National Risk Center: Does It Lower The Danger?

By Dr. Gene H. McCall
Monday, November 12th, 2018 @ 7:14PM

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on September 1, 2018, that it has created a National Risk Management Center to address strategic risks to the nation’s infrastructure. Earlier this month, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the use of the global positioning system, or GPS, will be one of the first “systemic risks” to be addressed by the new Center.

A Center is a nice perching place for bureaucrats.  It generates promotions, salaries, positions, authority, and status of government employees. It also provides them with a place where they can meet with colleagues in a pleasant environment to discuss high-sounding if vague and undefined terms such as risk and strategic.  The definition of those terms fit the description of Justice Potter Stewart’s description of pornography.  He could not define it, but he would know it when he saw it.

Another important-sounding term mentioned in connection with this Center was ‘public-private partnership.’. Partnerships of this type seldom work, because the businesses involved usually feel that the government is prying too far into their business, and the government feels that the businesses are holding back information. Both are right.

In actuality, though, the GPS may be the most successful public-private partnership the U. S. government has ever created.

The government supplies the information source, and the private sector provides the devices to use the information.

The private sector is, certainly, far larger than that of the government, and the investment return produces tax revenue and a higher GDP.

The government, also, has benefited from the receiver technology developed in the private sector.   Of course, the Center bureaucrats will ignore this fact. Instead, they will concentrate on reducing the immediate costs of the GPS that are borne by the government, thus slowing the private sector’s ability to innovate.

I would argue that positioning, navigation, and timing capabilities are so important to the nation that the government has an obligation to supply the capability. Certainly, the justification is stronger than that for supplying military aircraft, or tanks.

A more serious shortcoming of the Center is reflected in the statement of James Platt, director of DHS’s PNT Program Management Office when describing the Center’s focus on the GPS:

“We can’t back up GPS for everything. If we could — if we could field a system that matched GPS in every aspect and we could do it on a budget that’s less, then why would we need GPS? The answer’s pretty simple; we can’t do that. We have to find ways of identifying what’s critical, making sure there are security and resiliency in those critical systems.”

This statement is very disturbing.  Independent of the near impossibility of proving a negative, the statement indicates that the DHS is not looking for a replacement.   Why indeed would one want to “field a system that matched GPS in every aspect”?  Because GPS is a 40-year-old technology that is showing its age.  Improvements in system performance have nearly reached the limits of the possible. Additions to the system, such as the GPS III satellites, are making rather trivial changes that are being hyped as significant to justify their outrageous costs.

Well, Mr. Platt, the truth is that it is possible to generate a system that does not reproduce the GPS in every detail, but, rather, one that produces more accurate information, is nearly invulnerable to jamming and spoofing, and is less expensive than the GPS.

If the Center is not looking for such a system and has stopped the search for such a system throughout the world, then the nation is in more danger as the result of having the Center.


* Dr. Gene H. McCall is an Affiliate Research Professor, Desert Research Institute, Reno Nevada. He completed an assignment as the Chief Scientist with Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Dr. McCall’s areas of expertise are: Lasers, laser-matter interactions, non-linear optics, nuclear weapon science and technology, Plasma physics, Z-pinch physics. explosive modeling and applications, positioning and timing systems, satellite navigation, aircraft navigation and landing systems, weapon systems. He has now retired from Los Alamos National Laboratory as a Laboratory Fellow and can be reached at ghm7723@gmail.com


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