Justice officials defend wireless network program

Following a critical inspector general’s report, Justice Department officials are defending their Integrated Wireless Network program, which they believe was hampered by a lack of funding as well as by a rapidly changing technology environment and other circumstances beyond their control.

The Office of Inspector General, in an audit this month, said the wireless network program cost $356 million over 10 years but did not achieve its initial goals and has an uncertain future. The program to replace land mobile radios previously grew to $5 billion to cover federal agents in Justice, Homeland Security and Treasury, but later was shrunk and divided into separate initiatives.

However, Justice officials said the department should be credited for its progress in deploying modern interoperable communications in the Washington, D.C. area and for a strategy that allows for incremental upgrades in other areas as funding permits.

"Although changing circumstances, including funding availability, have required the department to change the scope and deployment approaches of the IWN program, the department has still been able to achieve significant improvements in the wireless communications capabilities delivered to our law enforcement agents despite these constraints,” Gina Talamona, a spokeswoman for Justice, wrote in an emailed statement to FCW.

Justice officials, in a written response to the inspector general dated Dec. 30, 2011, asserted the audit did not adequately  take into account several circumstances that affected the fate of the program.

“The report opines on various deficiencies in the department's tactical wireless communications systems and related issues, without clarifying whether the deficiencies were attributable to the conduct of the project or to broader external circumstances,” states the Justice response.

While acknowledging there were problems with the IWN plan and implementation, “it is important to note that the project from its outset was sweeping in terms of its organizational dimensions (i.e. crossing agencies as well as levels of government), had significant technical complexity, and would require an extended multi-year timetable for implementation,” the letter said.

What is more, the wireless network project has been affected by “an extremely dynamic environment” that included “significant technology changes, evolving law enforcement demands and fiscal constraints,” the Justice letter said. “The inherent complexities of the project and its changing external circumstances have been the major factors influencing the project's progress to date.”

Furthermore, the Justice officials urged the inspector general to audit the wireless program based on its current objectives, not on its initial plan that was “not finalized.”

The Justice letter was written on behalf of Lee Lofthus, assistant attorney general for administration, and was signed by Michael Allen, deputy assistant attorney general.

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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