Feds pick up pace on wireless

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the federal government is moving ahead at a faster clip on wireless communications for law enforcement officials and first responders, officials said May 30.

The Justice and Treasury departments, for example, are making swift progress on a joint wireless network, said Michael Duffy, director of the telecommunications services staff in the Justice Management Division.

The network's system architecture should be finished by July, procurement requests issued this fall and the network deployed by late spring 2003, Duffy said at a panel hosted by the Bethesda chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

"To see Treasury and Justice actually working together on a project is big news, I know," Duffy said, "but we all recognize that our world changed in September."

The joint wireless network's goal is to replace the aging land mobile radio systems in use by 70,000 law enforcement officers in both agencies, Duffy said. "Most of the equipment we have deployed now is fairly antiquated -- and some of it is Smithsonian quality," he said.

Meanwhile the National Wireless Communications Infrastructure Program (NWCIP), an intergovernmental wireless program designed to enhance communications among first responders, tested successfully May 28 and will be put through its paces again June 21, said Charles Cape, director of special projects and programs in the Commerce Department's Office of the Chief Information Officer.

By early June, NWCIP will be added to the long-distance telecommunications contract held by the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service, said Cape, who directs the program.

At the same time, interoperability is the key word for Project Safecom, one of the Office of Management and Budget's 24 e-government initiatives, said Thomas Weisner, director of the Office of Wireless Programs in the CIO office at Treasury. Safecom is an effort to ensure that federal, state and local public safety personnel can communicate with each other in emergencies.

By October, project officials hope to gain an executive order to require federal agencies to install common interoperability frequencies in their mobile and portable radio equipment, Weisner said. Six regions -- including Michigan, Los Angeles County, Arizona, Alaska, Virginia and Illinois -- have been selected for the project's initial implementation.

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