Government Communications Network in Trouble
A new wireless network meant to connect the U.S. Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Treasury is at high risk of failure, a government report finds.
The report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine concluded not only that the project known as the Integrated Wireless Network is doomed to fail, but that the partnership between Justice and Homeland Security is “fractured.”
The three departments agreed in 2004 to create the $5 billion network as a secure nationwide communications network for use by 81,000 federal agents in all the states and territories. Yet despite six years of development and more than $195 million in funding, the IWN project does not appear to be succeeding.
Fine listed a number of reasons for the failure:
–Uncertain and disparate funding mechanisms;
–A fractured partnership between Justice and Homeland Security; and
–The lack of an effective governing structure.
The Inspector General also criticized the Justice Department for continuing to spend “increasingly significant amounts of money” to maintain its existing system rather than developing the IWN project. In fact, he said, almost two-thirds of the money appropriated for Justice’s communications was used to maintain its “antiquated” systems instead of updating them.
Fine said the majority of Justice’s communications systems are obsolete because the manufacturers no longer support them, maintenance is difficult, and spare parts are hard to find.
The breakdown between Justice and Homeland Security, the report said, results from Homeland Security using project funding for individual solutions for its priority locations, rather than a single integrated system. Fine said that lack of centralization made it difficult to move forward on a truly integrated network.
Fine said it appears that Justice and Homeland Security are now pursuing separate wireless solutions instead of a single joint solution and that there could be significant adverse consequences for the safety of law enforcement officers, since present communications systems have “limited functionality, diminished voice quality, and weak security, making them vulnerable to hacking.”
Complaining that this is a significant missed opportunity, Fine concluded that the three departments must “repair the partnership and work together more closely to develop an interoperable communications system.”