'Clock ticking' on interagency radio network

The departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Treasury expect to solicit proposals soon for the Integrated Wireless Network for federal law enforcement agencies.

The program is underfunded and overdue, but agencies cannot afford to keep putting money into existing infrastructures, said Michael Duffy, deputy CIO for electronic government at Justice.

"We've been running this program for three years and we have very little to show for it," Duffy said. "The clock is ticking."

Duffy outlined the program Wednesday at a federal IT market conference hosted in Falls Church, Va., by Input Inc. of Reston, Va.

Time and money constraints will put pressure on companies that bid on the complex network, he said.

IWN will be implemented over five to 10 years under a performance-based contract developed from a statement of objectives. The statement from the joint program office established by the three departments is expected to be finished in four or five weeks. An informational conference for potential vendors is scheduled for April 27.

IWN is being driven by the need to replace outdated equipment, establish interoperable communications?including data transfers?between agencies, and reduce the amount of radio frequency bandwidth consumed by federal law enforcement. IWN will not serve state and local law enforcement agencies but will provide connectivity to them.

"We have aging, and in some cases failing, radio systems now," that are being kept on life support, Duffy said. IWN originally included Justice and Treasury, but when the Immigration and Naturalization Service and Customs were moved to DHS, the program was redesigned.

A contract for acquisition and contract management was awarded to Acquisition Solutions Inc. in February. The acquisition will be done in two phases, with a down-selection of qualified bidders before a contract is awarded. Cost was estimated in 2002 at $3 billion, although that has since been whittled down to $2.6 billion, Duffy said.

"That is not money we have in hand," he said. Current budgets are about half of what is needed to deploy the network in a timely manner, so the departments are hoping the cut the cost further.

Technology specifics will be left to companies, although a pilot program being established in Seattle is using the Project 25 standard for interoperable digital radio being developed by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials. Motorola is setting up the pilot network. Duffy said the pilot is a proving ground for operations and program management as much as for the technology.

"We've learned a lot of lessons from that already," Duffy said. "The logistics management will be the make-or-break" issue for bidders. "We struggled with logistics management in Seattle. It has taken us a lot longer to stand that up than we anticipated."

The Seattle pilot includes the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, Immigration service, Customs service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Marshals Office, the Transportation Security Administration, the Secret Service and state and local agencies.

William Jackson writes for Government Computer News magazine.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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