Government Bytes the Dust

David Williams

January 20, 2012

There are situations and stories that really crystallize the differences between the private and public sectors.  A report by wired.com reveals one of the moments in its January 19 article “$356 Million Later, the Justice Department’s Wireless Network Still Sucks.”  According to the article, “After 9/11, three federal law enforcement agencies planned a massive project to replace a mishmash of aging and obsolete radios used by thousands of federal agents. A decade and $356 million later, the program has made ‘minimal progress’ and the Department of Homeland Security, one of the project’s key partners, wants little to do with it.”  This is not surprising considering the technological ineptitude of the federal government.

Virtual Case File

One of the most glaring technological failures of government was the Virtual Case File (VCF).  Initiated in 2000, VCF was meant to connect case files into a system to better address cross regional threats.  Instead of using readily-available commercial software, the FBI awarded Science Applications International, Corp. (SAIC) a contract to build a customized system from the ground up.

In 2005 testimony before the Senate Committee on Appropriations (Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary), Glenn A. Fine, Department of Justice Inspector General (IG) stated that “… the FBI has failed to complete and deploy the VCF, the critical component of Trilogy that was intended to provide the FBI with an effective case management system. The VCF still is not operational after more than 3 years of development and the allocation of $170 million.”  The program was officially scraped that same year.

Department of Justice’s Integrated Wireless Network (IWN)

According to wired.com, IWN was supposed to “replace the Justice Department’s creaky, mismatched radio network. Among a number of headaches, the radios operate on a few limited and disconnected frequencies.”  A noble goal but the execution was lacking.

A January 2012 audit by the Department of Justice’s IG found glaring problems with the wireless project.  According to the audit, “Despite costing over $356 million over 10 years, the IWN program has yet to achieve the results intended when the Department initially began developing it in 1998. As a result, the Department’s law enforcement components are still using old and often obsolete equipment. There is limited interoperability between the components and with other law enforcement agencies. The IWN program continues to struggle with funding limitations that have resulted in multiple revisions to the plan and a significant reduction in the planned nationwide implementation. In addition, the IWN program is no longer a joint program with the Departments of the Treasury and Homeland Security.”

The failure of VCF and IWN should come as no surprise to anybody.  Relying on any level of government to maximize technology is foolish.  Consider the amazing technological and wireless developments since the government started IWN in 1998.  Consumers easily and inexpensively browse the Internet and communicate with each other through cell phones, smart phones and a variety of devices that were only figments of developer’s imaginations in 1998.  The telecommunications industry has been quick to respond to the ever changing market and landscape while the federal government slowly adapts and lags behind.