IWN project in jeopardy, audit report says
A much-anticipated, nationwide broadband network designed to serve federal law-enforcement users is “at a high risk of failure,” according to an audit released this week by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general.
The focus of the audit is the Integrated Wireless Network (IWN), a mobile broadband network proposed six years ago to provide interoperable, mobile data and voice communications to DOJ, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. Treasury Department. Industry observers have closely eyed progress on the network, which ultimately would cost $5 billion to $30 billion to build—money that has not been appropriated by Congress for the project.
To date, the federal government has spent $195 million on the project, with teams led by General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin conducting pilot deployments in an effort to demonstrate their worthiness for a multibillion-dollar contract to build the network. But such a contract may never be executed, because the federal partnership is “fractured in its approach and disjointed in its goals,” according to Inspector General Glenn Fine’s audit.
“The system that results from this partnership likely will not be the seamless, interoperable system that was originally envisioned and . . . may not be adequate in the event of another terrorist attack or national disaster,” the report states.
Problems identified in the report include uncertain funding sources, an absence of effective governance and a perceived lack of interest by DHS, which has pursued other communications solutions—most notably, the Secure Border Initiative (SBI) network—amid a high personnel turnover rate within its department.
For the DOJ, the IWN initiative is crucial, because its current system is “antiquated,” with 75% of its infrastructure no longer supported by the manufacturer, according to the audit. In the audit, Fine criticized the department for spending two-thirds of its money maintaining its existing system rather than updating it.
Fine recommended that the federal departments detail their commitment to IWN in a new memorandum of understanding or tell Congress that the joint communications network is not a viable project.
Many public-safety officials have been critical of the IWN effort, noting that the significant expense for a system that is only designed to serve about 80,000 federal users. Consolidating the effort with the public-safety broadband trust model proposed in the 700 MHz band should be considered as way to use money efficiently and enable interoperability between federal, state and local agencies, said Charles Werner, fire chief for the city of Charlottesville, Va.
“If you’re going to subsidize something, why not subsidize something that’s going to work for everyone?” Werner said.