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The Justice Department’s inspector general gives national law enforcement wireless network poor marks: $200m has been spent with little to show for it. The majority of the $772m allotted to the program was used to support the older, existing networks. The system’s overall cost will be $5b and take until 2021 to complete; 81,000 agents of the Justice, Homeland Security, and Treasury departments are to use the network. The Department of Homeland Security can’t wait for progress and is charting its own course.
Private analysts now peg the full cost at $30b, according to The Washington Post. The project is 15 months behind at present. In-fighting among departments, a long-standing problem in federal law enforcement, is one of the factors, the inspector general found.
A number of large-scale federal projects have been abandoned in recent years after hundreds of millions or even billions being spent, including an FBI project mentioned in this article, and the next-generation air-traffic control system. Software projects don’t scale, and integrated software/hardware projects are always orders of magnitude greater than expected.
For a great book on why projects like this fail, and how to avoid some of those problems, read Scott Rosenberg’s Dreaming in Code. He explains how software complexity has outstripped program management capability.
The new York Times reports that a multi-year project for the transit system has significant flaws: The new radio system was designed to integrate above-ground and in-subway communications. The problem is that interference abounds making the system unusable, the Police Department says. The department won’t use the system, which was developed by the Metropolitan Transit Authority. The MTA’s police force merged in 1995 with the New York City Police Department.
The story is so typical, it makes one want to spit. Despite significant problems known as long as ago as 2001, the MTA kept authorizing the contractor to continue to build out. The police told the MTA in mid-2004 they wouldn’t use the interference-ridden system, and the MTA has been working on fixes. But they continued to press for the new system’s use, regardless of the lack of efficacy. The contractor doesn’t appear to be at fault because they built to spec, relying on the MTA for approval and for providing some infrastructure that proved inadequate.
At this point, the $140m cost will probably balloon to $210m, which is above the original $115m budget. Part of the cost is an additional $36m to replace underground wires used as antennas—something like leaky coax, I’m sure—that turned out to have 72 miles that was unusable, or about a fifth of the system they expected to rely on.
Another change will result from switching from analog to digital, which wasn’t an option when the network was planned several years ago.
The transit police can’t ditch their old system because new $60m network doesn’t work reliably in tunnels: The Washington Post reports that the Metro Transit Police force cannot rely on the new radio system underground, despite the Motorola system being required to cover 95 percent of the area with 95 percent reliability of voices being understand. The old system has a single channel shared across the network; the new one has 255 channels. Officers must carry two radios for safety.
The Post quotes Motorola as stating they don’t have an ETA for the six-year-old system achieving the required level of availability. The current Metro chief sounds aggravated. It’s only part of the subway network that’s a real problem: four tunnel segments and seven underground stations. An officer was attacked in March and had just a radio from the new system. She was forced to track and arrest the attacker while trying futilely to get a signal—she eventually got one word to pass through the network, enough to get her location.
Radios have been installed 1,500 buses and 55 police cruisers where they apparently work just fine, as well as working as expected for two aboveground transit police units.
Motorola is testing a cable replacement which, if successful, might lead to them replacing 100 miles of antenna cable. Metro and Motorola haven’t agreed on which party would pay for any of this.