Wireless goals coming

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Three federal agencies joining forces on a major wireless project are moving forward with project plans, and officials expect to release their requirements this summer.

The statement of objectives for the Integrated Wireless Network (IWN) will be released in June or July outlining the expectations and constraints of the project, officials said today at an industry event in Arlington, Va. IWN will be a consolidated, nationwide interoperable wireless communication system to support the departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Treasury.

The performance-based contract will allow industry representatives to present the best solutions based on the departments' needs, officials said.

"We'll lay out for you our expectations," Justice Department deputy chief information officer Mike Duffy told the vendor audience. "From that, you come in and tell us what needs to get done and how to get it done."

The new network will replace the aging wireless systems in many of the department's components, such as FBI's 15- to 18-year-old systems, Duffy said. It will be designed to serve more than 80,000 law enforcement and homeland security users spread across 2,500 radio sites.

Officials haven't determined the project's maximum cost yet, Duffy said.

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.

"The 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."

Bringing three diverse departments together can be challenging, said Duffy, citing as an example the number of people needed to approve a memorandum of understanding. But the three departments' 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.

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 due diligence phase, the bidders can get more information from the government.

"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 the Justice Department in December to help the departments develop the contract.

Mather outlined the process of a performance-based contract, and advised vendors to learn more about the steps involved. Rather than provide requirements for vendors to follow on the project, the government will provide objectives and expectations, calling on vendors to fill in the solutions and metrics to achieve those results, he said.

"For many of you, this is going to be a very different competition than you've done in the past," Mather said. "You're going to be asked to do things you've traditionally not done."

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