There has been so much discussion going on about Sound Transit’s light rail not coming to Federal Way. Sometimes we may be excused for getting the idea that our leaders stay awake at night thinking up ways to get taxpayers to pay for boondoggles.
Now another boondoggle has come to light. The good news is that the Federal Way Police Department avoided another project to nowhere.
After 9/11, the Feds wanted to increase inter-operability — a nightmare. The Washington State Patrol was interested in becoming the radio communications provider for law enforcement. And the Department of Justice had a Motorola system they wanted to sell to Washington and other states.
Many law enforcement agencies in the Northwest are already at the mercy of Motorola because of Motorola’s monopoly in proprietary technology. You can’t really blame the WSP and other agencies for wanting to buy into the DOJ network.
First responders remember how radio contact between first responders failed in New York City in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center.
The Department of Justice came calling on the WSP last September with the message: “Don’t build your own, join us!” The Federal Way Police Department and Valley Communications decided not to join the DOJ-WSP Radio network system.
Valley Communications utilized a “patch” system via the LERN network in the event local agencies need to communicate directly with state or federal agencies. WSP’s system will not impact the 800 MHz system in King County.
When Motorola offered a large discount, the WSP already had $32 million in its budget for the contract. One of the critics complained, “Seems to me that sole-sourcing essentially locks them into that one vendor and they’re not going to have any options.” But converting to the new system was only a mere $26 million — with $9 million for other work. Motorola refused to answer questions until after the contract was signed.
The FCC had given the state patrol and other agencies a deadline to free up large swaths of the airwaves. The WSP was desperate to comply with the new Federal Communications Commission regulations. The FCC gave state and local law enforcement until Jan. 1, 2013, to meet the new requirements — or risk losing reception in nearly one-third of the state.
The DOJ’s inspector general is now questioning what the agency has to show after 13 years of upgrading its law enforcement radios and spending $356 million. The Obama administration even wants to cancel the program.
Implications for the Washington State Patrol are unclear. The program has already been shelved nationally, and one state lawmaker questions whether it can survive. According to the Tacoma News Tribune, Rep. Reuven Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat, believes it is likely the feds will cancel the program — or offer the network to the state to maintain. The WSP admits that possibility.
The Department of Justice now has decided not to expand its law enforcement radio network because the design might not handle “significant advances in new technologies.” That’s exactly what the critics were saying to the WSP while the DOJ was quietly abandoning the project.
What did the DOJ know concerning such problems when they persuaded our state lawmakers to come on board? The Washington Attorney General’s office needs to look into various causes of action against the federal government.
Just a few months after the WSP entered into the contract, the Inspector General warned that delays in the system are potentially jeopardizing the lives of law enforcement and emergency personnel and the public. The audit stated that it is impossible to determine the true cost of the Integrated Wireless Network.
The WSP is keeping an optimistic face on things, however, and apparently still claims that it saved some $12 million by linking to the federal radio network. Not surprisingly, the big spenders in Olympia minimized all the earlier objections and voted for the DOJ-Motorola proposals. Now some law enforcement agencies may have to retrofit or buy new radios to communicate with the Motorola system. The Department of Fish and Wildlife will have to purchase new radios at a cost of $1.5 million, but that does not include the other Motorola proprietary equipment and software that is required to make things work.
The state patrol is paying Motorola an average of $5,800 per radio for 2,400 radios. For agencies with less money to spend, replacing radios with Motorola equipment might not be necessary. That depends on whether Motorola is willing to let its competitors use Motorola technology. It all makes you wonder whether any of these problems developed because of something to do with state and national politics. I don’t know whether Motorola made campaign contributions that had anything to do with it, but I sure am glad that the Federal Way Police Department just said no to the federal government.