Appropriations delay would hurt law enforcement wireless net

The Justice Department’s chief information officer said today that passing a fiscal 2009 budget was vital to the agency’s efforts to implement its Integrated Wireless Network (IWN), a consolidated nationwide federal wireless communications service for law enforcement.

Justice CIO Vance Hitch said it had been difficult to obtain the necessary funding for IWN, which will eventually replace the department’s agencies’ legacy radio systems. Hitch said the additional funding the administration requested for tactical radio communication upgrades in its fiscal 2009 budget were necessary because the radio communication systems that Justice's agencies use can be hacked and operate with old technology.

The legacy radio systems “are falling apart, there’s no more replacement parts in many cases because there is old technology,” he said at an executive breakfast sponsored by National Business Promotions and Conferences, Inc.

Justice's IWN eventually will replace the individual legacy systems used by Justice agencies such as the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Marshals Service.

The administration requested $121.7 million for law enforcement wireless communications in fiscal 2009. That request is $47.4 million more than was enacted in fiscal 2008 and $43.9 million than the money used for current services in fiscal 2009. Of the proposed $43.9 million increase, $19. million would be used to replace older legacy equipment in various Justice agencies and $24.9 million would go towards implementing IWN.

“It’s been very difficult to get the budget in these tough budget times,” Hitch said. “I do feel good about the [fiscal 2009] budget if we get one – I’m just hoping we don’t get a continuing resolution for the whole year because if we do we will wipe out what has taken just unbelievable effort” to get the additional funding for IWN included in the budget.

A continuing resolution passed by Congress continues the previous fiscal year's  levels of government spending, but is not a complete new budget

The IWN program began as a collaboration to build one integrated network between Justice, the Homeland Security Department and Treasury Department. It was estimated to cost $5 billion through 2021. Work on IWN began in 2001, but in March 2007 Justice's inspector general said the project was at risk for failure because of uncertain funding for IWN, problems with the partnership between Justice and DHS, and the lack of an effective governing structure.

In January, the three departments signed a new memorandum of understanding under which Justice, DHS and Treasury are to develop their integrated wireless networks, and work together to ensure they are interoperable.

Justice plans for its version of the integrated wireless network to cost less than $2 billion to complete. The department has hired General Dynamics as the integrator for the project.

Hitch said a pilot program for the Justice system had been successful.

“I think we are on the track of getting the money now, but unfortunately it’s taken three years longer than it should have, and I feel bad about that,” Hitch said. “We know what we want; we just have to get some money to do it.”

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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