Audit Finds Problems with Washington State Patrol Narrowbanding Project
Tuesday, August 09, 2016 | Comments

The Washington State Auditor’s Office released its performance audit on the Washington State Patrol’s digital narrowband radio project. The audit found the patrol could have benefited from an engineering study before designing its narrowband system, and soliciting competitive proposals could have helped it better assess the best project approach.

In 2001, the Washington State Patrol (WSP) said it was necessary for the state to negotiate a sole source contract with Motorola Solutions to complete its VHF narrowbanding project. The audit said, “Although sole source contracts are allowed for purchases that are clearly and legitimately limited to a single source, seeking competitive proposals could have provided meaningful market information, such as the viability of alternative vendor approaches and products.”

The WSP decided to meet the VHF and UHF narrowbanding mandate by merging its radio system with the U. S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Integrated Wireless Network (IWN), built by Motorola. By using IWN, the patrol hoped to streamline the conversion process, save money and avoid any loss of coverage, the report said. In 2010, the state legislature approved an appropriation of $40.1 million for the 2011 – 2013 biennium and $12.5 million in planned appropriations for the 2013 – 2015 biennium. Over time, concerns arose among legislators, the Washington State Troopers Association and competing vendors that the patrol’s approaches to project planning, contracting and procurement, and partnerships did not meet their expectations or produce the best results for the state.

The audit said the patrol made decisions without a complete understanding of user needs and what digital radio technology could deliver. “The patrol has likely seen a loss of coverage in areas that already had poor coverage but which nonetheless allowed troopers to communicate with one another,” the audit said.

However, the audit said the patrol likely maintained or improved coverage in some areas of the state that already had good coverage, such as the Puget Sound area. The agency also successfully partnered with other public-safety agencies, reducing the amount of additional funding the patrol will need to address the coverage issues.

“Until recently, the patrol did not fully communicate the system’s current challenges and future risks to legislative members, but project reports are now available online, increasing project transparency,” the audit said. “The audit recommends the patrol work with the governor’s office and the legislature to establish a long-term plan to address the system’s challenges.”

More information, including a summary, the full report and a video are here.

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