Treasury gradually comes to grips with wireless technology

Treasury gradually comes to grips with wireless technology

Department takes a methodical approach to the last mile of linking 14 bureaus and mobile workers

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

The Treasury Department is slowly embracing emerging wireless technology, which officials say is the final stretch of construction on the information superhighway.

Treasury's 2-year-old Wireless Program Office works to build a wireless infrastructure.

'The wireless portion is the last mile as we go into focusing on mobile office workers who operate their laptops in their vehicles or plug them into their cellular phones,' said Jim Downes, assistant director of Treasury's Wireless Program Office. 'It is an emerging technology'especially for the way government officials work.'

The 2-year-old Wireless Program Office is taking baby steps to implement the wireless component of the Treasury Communications Enterprise'the department's initiative to provide shared IT services to users in all bureaus and offices.

Working for wireless

Since September 1998, WPO has worked to create a consolidated wireless program for Treasury's 14 bureaus, Downes said.

The initial focus of WPO was to implement the National Telecommunications and Information Administration mandate, which directs federal agencies to narrow by one half the bandwidth used to transmit radio signals by 2005 for VHF allocations and 2008 for UHF.

WPO mainly has concentrated on compliance with NTIA, which has prompted Treasury to replace its wideband VHF land mobile radio (LMR) networks with the narrowband national Integrated Treasury Network, Downes said.

The LMR affects about 10,000 law enforcement officials in various Treasury bureaus, Downes said.

'It became apparent that we could manage our radio systems more efficiently by having a consolidated effort'eliminating or minimizing duplication of efforts,' Downes said.

As program areas are developed, WPO will coordinate and implement them on a regional basis. The Treasury Wireless Interface Group, composed of bureau radio managers, will ensure individual bureau needs are met.

The Public Safety Wireless Network, a joint Treasury and Justice Department effort, shares WPO best practices, lessons learned and solutions for wireless systems planning, according to Treasury.

Downes said his staff is establishing a proof-of-concept pilot to incorporate trunking technology in the LMR arena. A trunk is a line that carries multiple voice or data channels between two telephone exchange switching systems.

New to feds

'This is not a new technology, but it is new in the federal community. There has been no real wide use of wide area trunk environment for the law enforcement community,' Downes said.

The ITN implementation, however, is still in the planning stages.

'We have plans in place,' Downes said. 'We are ready to move as soon as we get the money to move with.'

Downes said the WPO has worked with a $1 million annual operating budget. Treasury requested $3.4 million for program management for fiscal 2001.

'I would say we are still in the infancy of our program,' he added.

An even younger endeavor is WPO's commercial services initiative, Downes said.

'The commercial services side has only drawn attention in the last three months,' he said. 'But it's on somewhat of a fast track simply because the technology is emerging and the bureaus expressed a need for a consolidated, centrally negotiated contract.'

Downes said his office is working with Bell Atlantic Mobile through the federal wireless telecommunications contract, AT&T Wireless and DynCorp of Reston, Va., to explore options in the Cellular Digital Packet Data environment. CDPD supports wireless access to the Internet and other public packet-switched networks. Cellular telephone and modem providers that offer CDPD support let mobile users access the Internet at up to 19.2 Kbps.

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