- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2007

A partnership begun in 2004 by the Justice, Homeland Security and Treasury departments to create an Integrated Wireless Network has “fractured” and is at a “high risk for failure,” according to a government report issued yesterday.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said that despite years of development and more than $195 million in funding, the project “does not appear to be on the path” to providing the seamless interoperable communications system envisioned.

“The causes for the high risk of project failure include uncertain and disparate funding mechanisms for IWN, the fractured IWN partnership and the lack of an effective governing structure for the project,” Mr. Fine said.

“Failure of the IWN project would represent a significant missed opportunity to achieve needed communications interoperability among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies,” he said, adding that the departments “need to repair the partnership and work together more closely to develop an interoperable communications system.”

Mr. Fine also said Justice has been spending increasingly significant amounts of money to maintain its communications systems instead of developing new wireless solutions as part of the joint project, known as IWN.

He said the Justice systems are considered obsolete because they are no longer supported by the manufacturer, spare parts are difficult to find and maintenance is essentially a customized service.

As a result, he said, successful implementation of IWN is critical to the department’s need to replace its antiquated systems and achieve communications interoperability among federal law-enforcement agencies.

The report said $772 million had been appropriated to the Justice Department’s narrow-band communications account, which funded IWN through fiscal 2006, but almost two-thirds of it was used to maintain the department’s “antiquated, stove-piped legacy communications systems.”

Mr. Fine also noted that although Justice agencies received funding to operate wireless radio systems through a centralized office, Homeland Security was not consolidated in a centralized account.

He said Justice officials did not think Homeland Security always met its commitments to the joint IWN project, in part because of the difference in funding. He said the lack of centralization at Homeland Security made the joint IWN project more difficult and could result in a lost opportunity to create a truly integrated network.

“Our audit found strong indications that the IWN partnership is fractured, and it appears that the DOJ and DHS are now pursuing separate wireless solutions instead of a single joint solution,” Mr. Fine said.

In 2004, Justice, Homeland Security and Treasury agreed to jointly develop IWN to provide a secure nationwide wireless communications system that would permit federal law-enforcement officers to communicate across agencies, allow interoperability with state and local law-enforcement partners and meet mandates to convert to narrow-band spectrum radio frequency.

Mr. Fine said IWN was expected to consist of land mobile radio, cellular telephone and walkie-talkie devices to support the needs of federal agents and law-enforcement officers across the country. He said law-enforcement officers at the departments were depending on IWN to replace antiquated communications systems.

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