Air Force Plays Hide and Seek with GPS III RFP

It’s going to be real hard for anyone outside the Defense Department or its contactors to get even a peek at the request for proposals for the advanced Global Positioning System III satellite contract. The Air Force Space and Missiles Systems Center in beautiful downtown El Segundo, Calif., has limited access to contract documents to folks with a Defense Common Access Card (CAC), capable of digital authentication through a Pubic Key Infrastructure (PKI) certificate.

The GPS III satellites, which the Air Force intends to start launching in 2012 represent a quantum leap in capabilities from today’s existing GPS satellites. So, it would be helpful to read about the specifications the Space and Missiles Systems Center has in RFP.

But the Air Force said in a notice on the procurement released May 18 that the GPS III RFP and its attachments are located in the bidders library at the GPS Joint Program Office, accessible only with a PKI equipped CAC or a Defense approved External Certification Authority PKI and handed out to industry partners or other organizations with which Defense wants to have secure communications.

This limitation on access to the GPS III RFP has been in place since early April, and when I first made a phone call about it last month, spokespeople at the GP JPO and the Space and Missiles Systems Center agreed on two things:

1. Even though I am a nice guy, they do not intend to issue a CAC card with a PKI certificate to me or any other reporter and;

2. The GPS III RFP should be a publicly available document, just like any other solicitation.

The Air Force has slipped the release of the GPS III RFP from May 21 to May 23, so maybe I will be pleasantly surprised by then that the contract documents have magically appeared on a Web site accessible to the public. My cynical side tends to doubt it.