Opinion

DOD needs to go beyond ‘entrenched viewpoints’ on Ligado

The House Armed Services Committee is one of the strongest allies of the Department of Defense on the Hill. My tenure as Chairman, from 2011-2015, was as close as I will ever come to “serving” with America’s brave and brilliant men and women in uniform, and it was the best professional time of my life. Though I left Congress five years ago, I pledged I would stay in the “fight” as long as there were issues I could champion that would help my former colleagues make the best decisions for the nation. As a consultant and lobbyist, I have found I can stay engaged and be helpful.

I’ve learned that “lobbyists” and politicians have a few things in common: they both depend on information and relationships to help solve problems, and because the “good” ones serve right alongside the not-so-good ones, people sometimes question motives. The venerable Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, whom I deeply admire and respect — and who has been a friend since I arrived in Congress in 1993 — last week raised the question of my affiliation with Ligado.

(Editor’s note: McKeon is chief executive of McKeon Group, which is a lobbyist for Ligado.)

Ligado is a mobile satellite services company that has been fighting for more than a decade to gain permission from the FCC to add ground-based cellular capabilities to the satellite-based network it has operated for three decades. Opponents say it could interfere with the GPS system we depend on every day. Advocates contend that the facts say otherwise, and Ligado is a critical part of America’s competition for 5G dominance with China. I am certain both sides care about national security, our economy, and the American people.

Years ago in Congress, I opposed Ligado. Yet now I am fighting to protect the FCC’s recent 5-0 vote to support Ligado’s proposal. What changed? Ligado changed. Since my time in Congress, Ligado has modified its proposal substantially to mitigate potential risk to GPS. Extensive testing verified that those modifications work—which satisfied me. I took a much more comprehensive look at the facts, which I strongly encourage my former colleagues to do. Importantly, this piece of spectrum will enable us to deliver transformational 5G capabilities, economic growth, and much needed jobs to Americans years sooner—and help us counter China’s aggressive 5G ambitions, which should matter to us all.

The SASC held a hearing on Ligado two weeks ago. I watched intently for the rationale of the FCC’s decision to be weighed against the Department of Defense’s concerns over the possibility of GPS interference. I was confident the scientific, economic, and strategic basis for the FCC’s decision would come out. Instead, only the DoD viewpoint was presented. On May 21, the HASC is holding a similar but non-public hearing which reportedly includes two DoD participants and two FCC representatives. I am encouraged by this opportunity for both sides to be heard.

As much as I fought on behalf of DoD as chairman of the HASC, I also learned that Congress can sometimes best serve our military by encouraging DoD leadership to look deeper into an issue, to go beyond entrenched viewpoints that can lead to what one member at the SASC hearing described as “an exaggerated sense of scientific and technological certitude that is not appropriately balancing the strategic imperatives or the geopolitical challenges we face.” I am cautiously optimistic that the HASC hearing May 21 will be a constructive dialogue that gives priority to the independent analysis of the FCC. The FCC made a rigorous and courageous decision, and Chairman Ajit Pai and the Commissioners deserve our support.

My focus today is entirely on the future of our great country — the America my 31 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren will grow up in. China’s Huawei continues to expand its presence globally while the world focuses on COVID-19. To prolong this multi-year process further will delay much needed U.S. economic opportunity and give China an even greater lead in 5G, with all of the global influence that would bring. All of these factors put the best interests of Americans at the heart of my advocacy for Ligado and makes it a worthy fight.

Buck McKeon, a California Republican, served in Congress from 1993-2015 and as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee from 2011-2015.

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