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Gov. Gregoire vetoes study of State Patrol radio upgrade

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on March 23, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
March 23, 2012 5:37 pm

Gov. Chris Gregoire today signed the $9.8 billion transportation budget (the AP’s Jonathan Kaminsky has more here) but she vetoed a section that called for a study of the State Patrol’s radio upgrade.

A state lawmaker who inserted the section called it another sign government is “addicted to the crack cocaine” of “old-style, clunky, proprietary hardware.” Rep. Reuven Carlyle said the debate amounts to a ”religious war” between different schools of thought on technology.

More on that below, but first some background: The patrol is cutting down on its use of the radio spectrum to comply with a federal “narrowbanding” deadline of Jan. 1, 2013, while also upgrading to digital technology and buying Motorola Solutions radios that will allow it to mesh with a digital network run by the federal government.

Carlyle says the $40 million project wasn’t properly vetted before the Legislature approved the money last year, and he placed a provision in this year’s budget calling for a delay and study.

Gregoire rejected that idea, saying in her veto message:

These provisos require the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) and the Washington State Patrol to conduct a technical review of the State Patrol’s conversion to narrowbanding. Funding was not provided in either proviso, and review of the narrowbanding project has already been done by external entities. For these reasons, I have vetoed Section 102(9) and Section 604.

That external review, said State Patrol Capt. Jason Berry, came from the State Interoperability Executive Committee. The patrol also ran the proposal past Pierce County Deputy Executive Kevin Phelps, who is overseeing a radio upgrade at the county level. The Executive Committee vetted the proposal and reviews quarterly reports on it, Berry said. The committee isn’t entirely external, since the patrol has two seats on the 15-member panel.

The same committee called in 2008 for a $500,000 study that the Legislature and Gregoire never funded.

Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat with a background in the wireless communications industry, opposes using a proprietary Motorola system — a debate that has turned out much the same as other battles he has fought and lost on technology.

His reaction is too colorful not to print in full, or at least in large part:

The numerous vetoes that have been implemented against provisions I put in budgets and language I’ve put in bills from the data center to narrow-banding are just an unfortunate byproduct of the fact that government is 20 years behind the private sector in its knowledge of how technology works and of the macro trends toward open standards based software vs. old-style, clunky, proprietary hardware. And this battle is really a religious war between old, proprietary-hardware thinking and the new world of the Web, with open-standards-based software. That is the fundamental disconnect. The public sector is addicted to the crack cocaine of expensive, proprietary, vendor-driven solutions …

We spend $1.9B a biennium in technology. We have no system wide management, oversight, control or decision-making. My only compliment of the governor in this area is her incredibly intelligent decision to hire the new CIO. (Bharat Shyam, Washington’s chief information officer, a new position created by the Legislature.) … I have extraordinary confidence in his technical skills and his fierce independence and his willingness to make very meaningful change.

Berry said any seller of radio equipment would have proprietary technology, and said by using Motorola and the federal Department of Justice system the patrol will save $12 million from its original estimate.

No study is needed, he said, because State Patrol troopers already use the federal network near the Canadian border in Whatcom County — part of a pilot project meant to be expanded nationally, although that expansion has stalled and looks unlikely to resume.

If Carlyle’s amendment had become law, Berry said, it would have forced delay past the Jan. 1 deadline, and if the Federal Communications Commission didn’t waive the deadline, the patrol would have been forced to reduce its use of the radio spectrum without an upgrade to digital technology. Berry said radio coverage around the state could have been reduced by more than a third.

“We’re talking huge portions of the state where troopers’ radios would not work,” he said.

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