Radio silence from over-budget police

The U.S. Capitol Police could wait several more years for upgraded radios, as the department’s $100 million modernization program continues to flounder.

Originally budgeted at $35 million in 2007, the program has since tripled in cost with little to show in the way of results. Officers must still contend with poor communications connectivity around the Capitol complex, which could prove detrimental to security.

There are “several locations, several times a day where you can’t get a hold of officers because they are in a dead spot,” said a department source involved with the radio modernization program.

The source described an incident within recent years where officers investigating a potential shooting threat near the Capitol lost radio contact and were unable to communicate with each other due to their outdated equipment.7

Officers have dealt with such communications dead spots for several decades, but were promised a solution with the radio modernization program, which was supposed to take three years to complete.

But five years later, the program is still plagued by delays and spiraling costs.

Lawmakers have already allocated over $104 million to the project since fiscal 2007 via supplemental and annual appropriations, according to House Appropriations Committee communications director Jennifer Hing.

Capitol Police have contracted with Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) to determine system requirements for the large-scale radio upgrade project. According to Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider, “significant progress” has already been made in preparing Capitol complex infrastructure for the new system.

“In addition, NAVAIR, as the technical lead for the project, is executing the major acquisitions for the project,” she wrote in an email. “So far, three of these contracts have been awarded for the project. Of the remaining two procurement actions to be executed by NAVAIR, one is in discussions with vendors pending an award and the final procurement is pending release.”  

In March, Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse testified before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the Legislative Branch that the upgraded radios would now be up and running by “spring or summer” of next year.

Capitol Police had earlier projected the upgraded radios would be delivered and operational by the January 2013 presidential inauguration, a deadline which has since proven impossible to meet. 

“I feel like right now we’re in a very good place with this project,” Morse assured lawmakers of the new time frame.

But Morse’s projections for the program might be overly optimistic. According to the Capitol Police source, “We’re still looking at least two to three years out before any system is put in place.”

Once system requirements are solidified, companies must bid on the contract and then go through the procurement and approval process, according to the source. Funding for the project must also be re-evaluated.

Though no exact figures were available, the source estimated that the department has already spent $60 million of the $104 million allocated for the project. When asked if the remaining funds would be enough to complete the ambitious program, the source said, “I don’t think so.”

The department’s attempts to stay within their allocated funding could ultimately render the entire program ineffective, the source said.

“That’s the reason why I believe they are trying to cut the system back as to the capabilities,” the source said. “If they don’t make the system capable of doing everything we would like it to do — only basically what they think it needs to do, so it’s limited — that means they won’t have to spend as much money on it.

“It’s defeating the point of the system,” the source said.

The Capitol Police Labor Committee has also registered its displeasure with the ongoing delays in the radio modernization program.

“Due to the radio program’s constant delays (five-plus years) and the spiraling cost ($35 million to over $100 million), there is concern over the entire project,” wrote Labor Committee Chairman Jim Konczos in an email to The Hill.

“Out of necessity, Congress appropriated millions of dollars to update our radio system but have yet to see a finished product,” he added. “Most contracts have benchmarks for a project’s conclusion and at what cost; this appears to have neither.”

Congress has not been blind to the program’s ongoing delays and increased costs. Several months ago, the Committee on House Administration asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to increase its involvement and attempt to steer the program back on track.

“In concurrence with the Capitol Police, the committee has encouraged the close involvement of the GAO to assist the department in its effort to meet the technical requirements of the project,” wrote committee spokeswoman Salley Wood in an email. 

GAO spokesman Chuck Young confirmed his agency’s involvement in the project, but would not provide specifics on what they were asked by the committee to achieve.

“We have been offering technical assistance but are not planning to issue any formal report,” he explained.

The Capitol Police acknowledged GAO’s ongoing involvement with the radio modernization program, but did not elaborate on the agency’s increased participation. 

“As with any large-dollar, complex project, the GAO has provided oversight and technical guidance to the project since its authorization,” Schneider wrote. “The department welcomes this continued involvement of the GAO in the project until its completion.”