- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the government committed more than $350 million to replace thousands of outdated and often obsolete radios used by federal law enforcement authorities, but the costly decade-long effort has yet to achieve its intended results and its success is doubtful, a report says.

Acting Inspector General Cynthia A. Schnedar said an investigation by her office into the progress made toward implementing an Integrated Wireless Network found that despite an infusion of $356 million over 10 years, the IWN program was never fully funded by Congress or by the Justice Department “at a level to adequately attain the goals of the program.”

Ms. Schnedar said funding limitations have resulted in “multiple revisions” to the plan and a “significant reduction in the planned nationwide implementation.” She said the Justice Department’s law enforcement components were still using old and obsolete equipment, adding that many of its radios have limited ability to share data with other department components and other law enforcement agencies.

“As a result, law enforcement and emergency personnel will continue to use inadequate, incompatible and outdated equipment, resulting in slower operation response times and potentially jeopardizing the lives of law enforcement and emergency personnel and the people they have sworn to protect,” Ms. Schnedar said.

She noted that Justice Department authorities were continuing to use legacy equipment that does not meet security encryption requirements and relies on different frequency ranges. For instance, the Drug Enforcement Administrations radios operate primarily on UHF frequencies while the rest of the Justice Department’s agencies operate mostly on VHF.

According to the report, Homeland Security is no longer involved in what had been a multiagency project and the continued participation of the Treasury Department is uncertain. Ms. Schnedar said the Justice Department and the other agencies developed a revised IWN agreement establishing a joint program; however, the agreement did not result in increased collaboration between the parties, and Homeland Security has not participated in the program since the agreement was signed in 2008.

Since the inception of IWN, the report said the Justice Department has developed three plans to implement the program, yet the plans were revised primarily as a result of inadequate funding. It said that while planning to replace the independent communications systems in the department began in 1998, the process is about to be revisited again, 13 years after the project began, because of continued reductions in funding.

In addition, because of the age and condition of the existing communications systems, a large portion of available funding continues to be spent only to maintain, rather than upgrade, the systems, the report said.

“The failure of IWN could have significant adverse consequences for the safety of department law enforcement officers because the departments legacy communications systems have limited functionality, diminished voice quality and weak security, making them vulnerable to hacking,” Ms. Schnedar said.

Ms. Schnedar said the differences in approaches by the Justice Department and Homeland Security could result in communications systems that are not well coordinated and, ultimately, inadequate to serve the needs of future emergencies.

The newest report, released last week, is a follow-up to one issued in March 2007 that found the IWN program was at high risk of failing because of uncertain funding, separate wireless communications systems, the fractured nature of the IWN partnership and a lack of adequate management.