After 10 years, $356M, Justice IG wants to scuttle IWN project

The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General is recommending scrapping the national Integrated Wireless Network (IWN) project in favor of newer technologies, according to a recently released audit report.

The audit recommends the department create a wireless network based on newer solutions, such as 3G and 4G Long Term Evolution, along with the National Public Safety Broadband Plan in development, “while considering the unique needs of law enforcement personnel.”

IWN, which was slated to go live in 2010, is riddled with problems, the IG's report states. Funding issues, poor coordination among involved parties, lack of a governing structure, and program delays and reductions are making it increasingly unlikely that the network will operate as planned. Furthermore, President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2012 budget for the department calls for suspending further development.

Justice has spent $356 million on the ailing project, which started 10 years ago. IWN was intended to replace the agency’s increasingly unreliable land mobile radio systems with a consolidated, nationwide, secure interoperable network.

The aim of the program was to support more than 81,000 federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the FBI; and the U.S. Marshals Service, and be interoperable with state and local law enforcement partners. It was also planned to meet mandates to use the federal radio frequency spectrum more efficiently.

However, because IWN hasn’t been completed, its law enforcement agencies are using radio and unsecure communications equipment that is more than 15 years old. These communication systems do not comply with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s narrow-banding requirements and upgraded encryption standard. Additionally, the systems have limited operability and different frequency ranges.

“A reliable, secure, and seamless communications network is essential to law enforcement officers, including special agents, when performing routine enforcement work, but is even more critical when performing special and emergency operations…. While IWN may no longer be the best solution, a solution is desperately needed.”

Other agencies have scrapped similar projects. Last October, the Defense Department scrapped its Ground Mobile Radio project, the main version of its Joint Tactical Radio System, reported Defense Systems. The Army spent $17 billion over 15 years on the project, which was intended to create a universal radio to replace the many different types of radios in use.

Since then, the Army issued a draft solicitation for the Multi-Tier Networking Vehicular Radio program, replacing the previous project, Defense Systems reported.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.


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