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August 21, 2008

 

DiNapoli: Statewide Wireless Network Should Not Proceed Until Contract Terms Met

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The New York State Office for Technology (OFT) should not move forward on the $2 billion Statewide Wireless Network (SWN) unless all the problems identified in testing are fully resolved and all contract requirements are met, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said today. OFT is expected to make a final decision on whether to accept or reject the primary regional build-out for the SWN by August 29.

DiNapoli’s comments follow the release of two audits today. The first audit found numerous operational deficiencies and other problems that led to extensive delays and continued testing failures. The second audit found that Erie County could spend nearly $30 million less by scaling back its participation in SWN and building its own radio network.

“New York is not much closer to a statewide network today than it was when this whole process started,” DiNapoli said. “After three rounds of failed testing, it is apparent that this system is not ready to move forward. M/A-COM has not met its contractual obligations, and New York can’t afford to spend $2 billion on a system that doesn’t work right. It’s time to fish or cut bait. M/A-COM has to deliver what it promised.

“Even if the system is fixed, our audit of Erie County demonstrates that localities should seriously look at alternatives to SWN.”

The SWN contract requires M/A-COM to develop and operate the network in three phases. The first phase of the regional implementation plan, which was originally supposed to be completed by December 19, 2006, was to make the network operational in Erie and Chautauqua counties as part of the primary regional build-out.

Under the contract, the state is not obligated to make any payments to M/A-COM until the primary regional build-out is completed, tested and accepted by OFT. If phase one is rejected by OFT, the state may terminate the contract and recoup its expenses without reimbursing any of M/A-COM’s costs.

The first audit, which covered the period of September 2005 to July 2008, examined whether M/A-COM had met the contract requirements for the primary regional build-out. Findings of this audit include:

  • Even though M/A-COM officials submitted signed affidavits affirming that the network was ready to undergo testing before the second and third rounds of testing, auditors found similar problems to those that had occurred during the first round of testing, including unclear voice communications, unacceptable tower downtime, inoperable portable radio devices and delays when handing off signals between tower sites.
  • Officials from the four major state agencies involved in testing told auditors that the network was not ready for operational testing in September 2007 because site towers were not complete and issues identified during initial technical testing were not resolved.
  • M/A-COM’s initial blueprint for network design did not comply with contract requirements. It did not include the level of detail required and the assigned staffing levels were inadequate.
  • OFT did not review testing procedures provided by M/A-COM for the first round of tests in September 2007 until June 2008. The outside engineering firm hired by OFT that later reviewed the procedures found numerous problems with the procedures that “could lead to additional costs, delays and potentially inaccurate test results.”
  • M/A-COM took considerably longer to acquire sites for communication towers and to obtain the required environmental approvals than it should have, leading to project delays.
  • M/A-COM did not provide required financial information so OFT could track and assess the reasonableness of expenses claimed by M/A-COM. Auditors urged OFT to impose the $5,000-a-day fine permitted in the contract if M/A-COM does not submit required reports.

Auditors reached their conclusions based on evidence and observations obtained through interviews with OFT, M/A-COM, outside technical consultants and first responders, as well as an extensive review of project documentation. Auditors also accompanied officials during the second and third rounds of testing in April and in July. OFT agreed with the audit findings. OFT’s full response is included in the audit.

The second audit found that because Erie County decided to build its own 400 megahertz (MHz) network and scale back its involvement with the 800 MHz SWN it could spend nearly $30 million less because it doesn’t have to purchase all new equipment for end-users in the county. In addition, the equipment is less expensive. Under the new system, auditors found:

  • The county will still be able to access the SWN when needed.
  • The early stages of the project will allow the majority (73 percent) of first responders to communicate with each other during emergencies, and upon completion the county anticipates approximately 95 percent of responders will be able to exchange information.
  • The county can provide mobile and in-building (portable) radio coverage at a cost savings of $1.3 million because most of the county’s 224 agencies already operate on 400 megahertz (MHz) radio equipment, which is less expensive than 800 MHz SWN compatible equipment.

Auditors noted that some costs for the county’s system still needed to be determined, and that a plan must be created to migrate over users.

The Statewide Wireless Network is a project to replace the obsolete communications infrastructure for the state with a radio network for public safety and public service agencies that works statewide. The SWN is intended to allow emergency personnel to communicate with each other, and is being designed to have the capacity for 65,000 users. DiNapoli’s office has committed to ongoing oversight of the project through a series of audits and payment reviews.

Click here for a copy of the primary regional build-out.

Click here for a copy of the Erie County audit.


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