- The Washington Times - Friday, May 16, 2003

D.C. firefighters and their union leaders say they are not satisfied with the progress of repairs to their radio system — work that is being supervised by Suzanne J. Peck, the city’s $139,000-a-year chief technology officer who is moonlighting for the state of Pennsylvania.

More than 18 months behind schedule, the $5.3 million communications system was to have been ready this spring, but city officials now say it will be completed by Sept. 30.

“The problems with the system are the same as they were a couple years ago when [the Office of the Chief Technology Officer] took over the project,” said Lt. Ray Sneed, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association.

Lt. Sneed said firefighters for more than a year have been frustrated over negotiations between the technology office and Motorola, manufacturer of the radio system. A contract to erect six more antenna receivers and replace a seventh was approved by the D.C. Council in December. “We thought that process took too long,” he said.

Peter Roy, deputy chief technology officer, said the communications system is scheduled to be completed by the end of this fiscal year.

The Washington Times first reported in August 2001 that the city’s million-dollar communications system for firefighters and emergency medical services workers fails in more than four dozen “dead zones.” The dead zones include the Metropolitan Police Department, the MCI Center, Union Station, the State Department, FBI headquarters and the Martin Luther King Library.

All of the department’s personnel have been issued 800-megahertz Motorola digital radios, and many said they have yet to see real improvement in the system.

Mrs. Peck’s office took over the project more than a year ago, and firefighters became disgruntled with her move to go back to the drawing board on the system.

The Times reported Tuesday that Mrs. Peck recently took a temporary job as the interim director of a new office of management and productivity for Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell.

Under an interpersonnel agreement signed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Mr. Rendell, Mrs. Peck is required to complete 50 days of work in Pennsylvania, most likely during the next three to four months, said an official in the technology office.

Fire officials said they are upset about Mrs. Peck’s double duty when the construction for their communication towers is about to begin. Officials said she already has wasted more than $3 million on consultants for a project that should have been handled by Motorola.

“The consultants are trying to think this thing to death. Motorola is in the business of selling and building radio systems. Let them do their jobs,” said one firefighter who asked not to be named.

Firefighter union officials said the problems could have been prevented if the city had paid the $12 million needed to construct the communications array. Instead the city low-balled the figures and got a bad system, union officials said.

Mr. Roy said the city lacked the necessary funding when the communications system was being planned five years ago.

But he said the technology office has saved the city money by “competitively bidding” the construction of the antennas.

“There were a lot of naysayers when we stepped in, but there have been no delays since we took over and when it’s done it will be much better than anyone could have foreseen,” Mr. Roy said.

He said the addition of the vehicle repeater system, an enhancement that places a small receiver on fire trucks to boost radio signals, helped improve on the original design.

The vehicle repeaters give the department radios extra power, useful in situations where firefighters need radio signals that can penetrate the 100-year-old marble and granite used in many buildings downtown.

“But the only way to increase the coverage is to install more signal towers,” Lt. Sneed said.

Mr. Roy said the radio signals will be at optimum strength when construction is done.

He said the radio system will include a component that will allow the fire department’s 800-megahertz and the police department’s 460-megahertz systems to work as one.

Lt. Sneed said the fire department will hold Mrs. Peck’s office accountable if it does not meet the Sept. 30 deadline.


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