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Emergency communications project imperiled

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  • paul odem
    DAILY BRIEFING March 26, 2007 Audit: Emergency communications project imperiled By Daniel Pulliam dpulliam@govexec.com A partnership between the departments
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2007

      March 26, 2007

      Audit: Emergency communications project imperiled

      By Daniel Pulliam
      A partnership between the departments of Justice and Homeland Security to create an interoperable wireless communications network for police and first responders has fallen apart and the project is imperiled, according to an audit released Monday.
      The report from the Justice Department's inspector general office stated that despite more than six years of development and $195 million in funding, the Integrated Wireless Network project "does not appear to be on the path to providing the seamless interoperable communications system that was envisioned."
      The two agencies now appear to be pursuing separate solutions, the report said. The Treasury department is also involved in the project, but has a smaller percentage of potential users.
      Uncertain and disparate funding mechanisms, the fractured partnership and a poor governing structure are all causes for the project's high-risk status, the 89-page report stated. The audit found that Justice has been spending more money to maintain its existing communications system instead of developing new wireless solutions as part of the network project.
      Justice, Homeland Security and Treasury agreed in 2004 to work together to develop the network, which could cost as much as $5 billion through 2021. It was expected to consist of a combination of land mobile radios, cell phones and walkie-talkie devices that would provide a secure nationwide wireless communications system.
      The project would permit 81,000 federal law enforcement officers to communicate across agencies and with state and local partners. A majority of Justice's communications systems are considered obsolete because they are not supported by the manufacturer and spare parts are difficult to find, the IG noted.
      Justice Inspector General Glenn Fine said a failure of the project would represent a significant missed opportunity to achieve needed communications interoperability among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
      "We believe that the departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Treasury need to repair the partnership and work together more closely to develop an interoperable communications system," Fine said.
      The project's failure could have significant consequences beyond the financial losses, the IG said. The safety of Justice law enforcement officers could be at stake because the department's legacy communications systems have limited functionality, diminished voice quality and weak security, the report stated.
      It recommended that Justice reach an agreement with DHS and Treasury that accurately reflects each agency's commitment to the network project by explicitly stating the shared goals, responsibilities and funding requirements. If the agencies are unable to reach such an agreement, Justice officials concurred with the IG that Congress and the Office of Management and Budget should be notified that the joint network project is not viable.
      Vance Hitch, Justice's chief information officer, said in a statement that the department believes the network program is the most appropriate strategy for providing agency agents with secure, reliable and interoperable communications in the field. He cited successful implementations of the network in Oregon and Washington state, but acknowledged that the audit raises valid concerns regarding funding and interagency partnership.
      "We are working diligently to address these issues," Hitch said.
      A DHS spokesman said the department agrees with the report's recommendations. Treasury officials did not respond to requests for comment.

      Potential Integrated Wireless Network Users

      Agency/Component Number of Potential Users
      Percentage of Potential Users
      Homeland Security
      Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service660.08
      U.S. Customs and Border Protection16,25019.94
      Federal Emergency Management Agency2,9543.62
      Federal Law Enforcement Training Center6000.74
      Federal Protective Service1,2441.53
      Immigration and Customs Enforcement17,63621.64
      Transportation Security Administration7,3178.98
      U.S. Secret Service6,1247.51
      Homeland Security Total 52,191 64.04
      Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives3,4264.20
      Federal Bureau of Investigation12,75115.64
      Federal Bureau of Prisons2030.25
      Drug Enforcement Administration5,1476.31
      Office of the Inspector General1570.19
      U.S. Marshals Service3,0893.79
      Justice Total 24,773 30.38
      Bureau of Engraving and Printing2790.34
      Internal Revenue Service2,8683.52
      Internal Revenue Service Facilities6010.74
      Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration4000.49
      U.S. Mint4000.49
      Treasury Total 4,548 5.58
      Total Users 81,512 100.00
      Source: Justice Management Division, Wireless Management Office, IWN Cost Model.

      ©2007 by National Journal Group Inc. All rights reserved.

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