GAO: Individual IWN updates risky

The Homeland Security, Justice and Treasury departments have abandoned their efforts to jointly develop the $10 billion Integrated Wireless Network (IWN) nationwide radio system for federal agents, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

The departments are now pursuing separate updates to their radio systems, a strategy GAO described as possibly inefficient and risky.

“In abandoning collaboration on a joint solution, the departments risk duplication of effort and inefficient use of resources as they continue to invest significant resources in independent solutions,” the GAO report of Dec. 12 states. “Further, these efforts will not ensure the interoperability needed to serve day-to-day law enforcement operations or a coordinated response to terrorist or other events.”

The joint network, which was to cost approximately $10 billion, had been in development since 2004 and was intended to serve more than 80,000 federal agents. The project has been categorized as high risk by the Office of Management and Budget. In April 2007, General Dynamics Corp. was named the prime contractor.

In recent months, the departments have determined that this specific system design cannot be implemented on a nationwide scale, and they have not acted collaboratively to identify an alternative approach, GAO said.

DHS, Justice and Treasury also have disbanded the formal IWN governance structure and are not using the existing contract for IWN, the report said.

The effort failed in part because the departments did not use good collaboration practices to overcome their different priorities, GAO said. DHS’ priority was improving radio systems for border patrol, while Justice’s was in other areas, the report said.

“Program officials from both departments acknowledged that these differing priorities led to an inability to resolve conflicts,” GAO said.

The departments have made little or no progress on re-establishing a governance structure for a new joint communications solution, the report added.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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