On the President's Announcement on the Global Positioning System

Office of Science and Technology Policy

For Immediate Release 
Contact: 202/456-6108
May 1, 2000

Remarks by Neal Lane
Assistant to the President for Science and Technology
The White House

On the President's Announcement on the Global Positioning System

I'd like to make some overall points about the Global Positioning System, or GPS.  This is a dual-use, satellite-based system that provides accurate location and timing data to people worldwide – to far more civilian users than military users.  The system transmits signals that can be used by GPS receivers to calculate a position, velocity, and time anywhere on the globe, at any time of day or night, in any kind of weather.

Today, based on a recommendation from the Secretary of Defense in coordination with the Secretaries of State, Transportation, and Commerce, and the Director of Central Intelligence Agency, the President is announcing that the United States can safely stop the intentional degradation of the GPS signals available to the public.  The United States is turning off the feature known as Selective Availability.  This is a significant step toward furthering the worldwide utility of GPS for peaceful civil, commercial, and scientific pursuits.  However, should an occasion arise in which it's in our interests to block GPS on a regional basis, we will have the ability to do so.

This announcement is another step in this Administration's strategic vision for the evolution of GPS.  This vision included a goal of encouraging the acceptance and integration of GPS for peaceful purposes, encouraging private sector investment, and promoting safety and efficiencies in transportation and other fields. This was followed by recommendations by the Gore Commission for Aviation Safety and Security in 1997 and by a GPS modernization initiative that Vice President Gore announced in January of last year.

In plain English, we are unscrambling the GPS signal.  It is rare that someone can press a button and make something you already own more valuable  – but that's exactly what's happening today.   All the people who've bought a GPS receiver for a boat or a car, or whether they use one in business or for recreation, will find that they are ten times more accurate as of midnight tonight.  Policemen, firemen, and emergency crews will now be able to respond faster and more accurately to exactly where help is needed.   Before, you could be somewhat certain where something was with a couple of hundred feet.  Now, you can pinpoint it precisely down to tens of feet.

Finally, let me say a few words about what GPS owes to investments in basic research.  GPS works because of super reliable atomic clocks -- no mechanical device could come close.  These clocks resulted from Nobel-prize winning physics, and creative engineering that managed to package devices which once filled large physics laboratories into a compact, reliable, space-worthy devices.  This GPS system grows directly from our past research investments in basic physics, mathematics, and engineering that was supported by American taxpayers.  It is a prime example of why America's world-leading science and technology enterprise must continue to be sustained and nurtured.   As with most of our public R&D portfolio, the taxpayers' investment has paid off handsomely in terms of new industries, new jobs, and new knowledge that continues to improve the quality of our lives.

Office of Science and Technology Policy
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W
Washington, DC 20502

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