- The Washington Times - Monday, December 2, 2002

The District's new public safety radio system, already delayed in being built, faces more delays because a money-saving move cut three key parts of the system from the contractor's bid, said city officials involved in the project.
The contract change and likely delay could force the District to lose some of the $46 million it has received in federal homeland security funds to build new transmitters, antennas and other radio systems for the police and fire departments by Sept. 30. The Washington Times first reported Nov. 19 that the new system is behind schedule.
Meanwhile, firefighters continue to use a system riddled with dozens of dead spots and police officers use a different system that is so old that replacement parts are no longer available.
The D.C. Office of Chief Technology Officer (OCTO), which has a $31 million budget to build the radio system, cut from its recently approved contract with Motorola Inc. three components that will be bid separately from the contract, said Linda Argo, chief of staff for the agency.
Mrs. Argo said the components about 1,200 portable radios for the Metropolitan Police Department, a backup microwave antenna system, and automatic diagnostic and alarm systems for failing transmitters and antennas were cut from the contract to save money.
She said the Motorola contract will be about $17 million without the components, adding that the city should get a better price for the components among competitive bids.
"We successfully reduced the amount of the contract," Mrs. Argo said. "There will be future procurement efforts for future system components."
Mrs. Argo said she did not know when OCTO will advertise for bids a process that could take months because system specifications must be written or accept proposals from companies to provide specifications and equipment.
"It is important to note that those actually have to be bid separately; they are not sole-source products," she said, adding that her agency will meet its Sept. 30 deadline for completing the system. OCTO originally said the system would be completed in June.
The new radio system is designed to put police and fire department radios on the same frequencies to allow personnel to communicate with one another and other agencies throughout the city. Currently, public safety radios operate independently within each agency.
OCTO has contracted to spend $5 million for engineering and consultant fees since January, but city officials said they have not seen a program-development plan for the radio system.
Some officials involved in the radio project criticized OCTO's decision to cut the components from the Motorola contract.
"They say they have reduced the amount of the contract, but all they did was eliminate some of the equipment," said one official who asked not to be identified. "These are essential components. They can't be cut."
"We need the new [police] portable radios since the old one will be useless with the new system," another official said.
What's more, mixing equipment from different radio makers could create problems in system compatibility and service, said a city official who asked not to be identified. The city will need to set up service contracts with the different manufacturers, who could blame each other for system failures.
"When you buy Motorola equipment, you want Motorola support systems," the official said. "They can get bids from other companies, but I don't know if it will be compatible. It will get ugly."
Mrs. Argo blamed the officials from the Metropolitan Police Department and the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department for complaints about the new system. She said OCTO has tried to keep them abreast of changes but that they have not attended all of the meetings.
"The leadership of the Fire and EMS and the union have been invited to over 30 meetings to discuss all of the plans. They have elected to attend these meetings irregularly," Mrs. Argo said. "They need to come to all of these meetings. The key to success is their involvement, and we continue to invite them in."
Police and fire officials said they have regularly attended the meetings but rarely have been given all the information they have requested. They said they have tried to provide insight and information but have been ignored by OCTO and its consultants.
One city official said OCTO had canceled regular meetings and did not begin rescheduling them until after The Times reported delays in the system.
"We show up at meetings that they cancel," the official said. "We had a weekly meeting, but they canceled them and said it wasn't important that we attend. There were some meetings they wouldn't let us attend."
The system's backup microwave antennas and its diagnostic and alarm systems are critical amid the threat of terrorism, the official said.
Without the microwave system, OCTO would have to rely on telephone lines to back up antennas that are destroyed or malfunctioning. A source familiar with the system said a telephone switching station could be destroyed at the same time and would make communications between public safety personnel impossible.
"They [telephone lines] are not that reliable. If you were to lose the central office, you might lose a couple of transmitters," the source said. "They will have no backup, especially when you throw the police system in there."
The diagnostic system is designed to provide immediate information to technicians if a transmitter or antenna is malfunctioning. Technicians can determine immediately whether a component has been destroyed or is malfunctioning.
The source said there will be about 300 transmitters in the system. "It is to provide a constant monitoring. It is a complex animal," the source said. "It sounds an alarm and automatically shuts down to avoid damaging the system."


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