Wireless net to test agencies' mettle

Three federal agencies are moving forward on a major wireless project that could test law enforcement's ability to work together and industry's ability to present a solution based on tough requirements.

The Integrated Wireless Network (IWN) will provide a common wireless infrastructure to support the departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Treasury, and officials expect to release their requirements this summer.

"One of the main objectives here is to achieve efficiency by coordinating between networks instead of everyone running their own railroad," said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc. "A second motivation is to try to move into next-generation technology that will allow them to use this for more advanced data sharing. There is a lot at stake for the agencies, and those will be driving forces to make agencies play nicely together."

Bringing three diverse departments

together can be challenging, said Mike Duffy, Justice's deputy chief information officer for e-government, citing as an example the number of people needed to approve a memorandum of understanding. But the three agencies' leaders see the benefits and are committed to the project, he said.

"The architecture analysis we conducted show there are substantial savings to be had both in cost and spectrum use by consolidating the three departments' resources," Duffy said, speaking last week at an industry event in Arlington, Va.

The new network will replace the aging wireless systems in many of the departments' components and will be designed to serve more than 80,000 law enforcement and homeland security users at 2,500 radio sites. Officials haven't determined the project's maximum cost yet, Duffy said, but he noted that a cost model developed in the initial architecture work was $2.5 billion, which officials are using as a benchmark.

The agencies have already begun wrestling with potential collaboration issues that a pilot project under way in Seattle may reveal, Suss said.

Officials set up a full-fledged joint program office and have earned managers' support.

The statement of objectives for IWN will be released in June or July and will outline the expectations and constraints of the project, officials said. The objectives will allow industry representatives to present the best solutions based on the departments' needs.

"We'll lay out for [industry representatives] our expectations," Duffy said. "From that, you come in and tell us what needs to get done and how to get it done."

Although the project will initially focus on voice capabilities, it will soon require wireless data capabilities, officials said. Also, the standards-based system must work with state and local law enforcement systems.

"IWN is a federal radio system," Duffy said. "We're not trying to build a system that supports the day-to-day operations of local officials. However, we will have to link into them, and that's a fundamental

requirement."

Officials are taking a two-step strategy in the procurement, starting with an open competition, followed by a second phase of due diligence with selected vendors. During the latter phase, bidders can get more information from government officials.

"The concept here is that the more the competitors know about the problem the government is trying to solve, the constraints and the culture, the more likely [the government] is going to receive a highly executable proposal," said Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc., which signed on with Justice in December to help the departments develop the contract.

Mather advised vendors to learn more about the steps involved. Rather than provide requirements for vendors to follow, government officials will provide objectives and expectations, calling on vendors to fill in the solutions and metrics to achieve those results, he said.

"For many of [the vendors], this is going to be a very different competition than [they've] done in the past," Mather said. They will be asked to do things they have not traditionally done, he added.

Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president of consulting at Federal Sources Inc., cautioned that presenting industry with objectives and expecting a solution can carry a price for the government.

"It's great for the government on the one hand because...they will probably come up with a lot of innovative solutions," Bjorklund said. "But if you make that investment, someone ultimately has to pick up the price and that becomes the government."

Although the approach is becoming more common, there is often tension between a performance-based approach and the rigorous requirements for law enforcement agencies, Suss said. To ensure agency support, vendors will have to have a rock-solid technical solution, he said.

"Law enforcement agencies have very stringent technical requirements in terms of performance," Suss said. "Their performance here means a lot, and agencies are going to need to be very comfortable that whatever solution they come up with will perform under all kinds of stress environments."

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