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American GPS Developer Accused Of Conflicting Loyalties

Article by: rob brady
Date: 3 Aug 2012

Professor Bradford Parkinson, the acclaimed "father of GPS", has been accused of having conflicting loyalties by the NASA inspector-general after it was revealed advice he issued to a company might have benefitted a GPS provider he owned shares in.

Parkinson, whose work developing GPS technology in the 70s won him his unofficial title, advised the company on their wireless networking plans as part of his work as a member of a NASA advisory committee.

He contacted the Federal Communications Commission to explain that an expansion of a wireless service by LightSquared, a telecommunications company, could disrupt GPS devices – something he has personal interest in as a shareholder for GPS service provider, Trimble.

In an investigation into the situation, the inspector-general concluded that Parkinson had not acted unethically – having previously disclosed his involvement with Trimble to NASA.
His advice was therefore deemed to have stemmed from a genuine interest to safeguard GPS technology rather than issuing from a mercenary desire to protect his own finances.
Whilst Parkinson is yet to comment on the findings, Vice President for Trimble, Jim Kirkland, claimed the professor had acted “in the best interest of the continued viability of GPS” before emphasising how millions of individuals now rely on this technology every day.

Despite the outcome, there are still questions over whether Parkinson should have been allowed to issue advice on a case in which he had such direct interest.

The inspector-general’s report on the situation has urged agency lawyers to instigate stricter regulation of committees such as these to ensure the risk of conflicting interests is significantly reduced.


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