New York could kill $2 billion network

New York State officials are considering a recommendation from  State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to kill a $2 billion statewide wireless radio network for emergency responders. DiNapoli said audits found numerous operational deficiencies and inefficiencies in the system’s initial build-out. 

The New York State Office for Technology shouldn't construct the Statewide Wireless Network unless all the problems identified in testing are fully resolved and all contract requirements are met, DiNapoli said in a statement Aug. 21. The state technology office was expected to issue a decision today.
 
The state hired M/A-COM Inc. in 2005 to build a radio system that would link public safety agencies on the federal, state and local levels.

DiNapoli earlier this week released an audit that cited operational problems and testing failures with the first phase of the project, and a second audit that reported Erie County could save $30 million by building its own radio network rather than participating in the statewide network.

“New York is not much closer to a statewide network today than it was when this whole process started,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “After three rounds of failed testing, it is apparent that this system is not ready to move forward.”

“Even if the system is fixed, our audit of Erie County demonstrates that localities should seriously look at alternatives to the Statewide Wireless Network,” DiNapoli added.

The first phase of the project, originally scheduled for December 2006, was to make the network operational in Erie and Chautauqua counties.
 
Under the contract, the state is not obligated to make any payments to M/A-COM until the primary regional build-out is completed, tested and accepted by the state, DiNapoli said. If the state rejects phase one, it may terminate the contract and recoup its expenses without reimbursing any of M/A-COM’s costs, he added.

The comptroller’s audit, covering September 2005 to this July, concluded that:


  • The problems found in testing included unclear voice communications, unacceptable tower downtime, inoperable portable radio devices and delays when handing off signals between tower sites.



  • The network was not ready for operational testing in September 2007 because site towers were not complete and issues identified during initial technical testing were not resolved.



  • M/A-COM’s initial blueprint for network design did not comply with contract requirements and didn't include the level of detail required and the assigned staffing levels were inadequate.



  • Testing procedures were judged to be inadequate and could lead to additional delays and costs.



  • M/A-COM took considerably longer to acquire sites for communication towers and to obtain the required environmental approvals than it should have, leading to project delays.



  • The company did not provide required financial information so state officials could track expenses.



About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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