Auditor says after decades of frustration, Pa.’s statewide radio system may soon work properly

The old system was expensive, and its coverage was so spotty that police and other first responders couldn’t rely on it for communication.

  • Katie Meyer

(Harrisburg) — The auditor general says a five-year overhaul of Pennsylvania’s statewide radio network is going according to plan.

The system — used by police and other emergency responders — had been plagued by problems and cost overruns for decades.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said when the upgrade process started in 2016, he wanted to make sure the commonwealth had learned from past mistakes.

Issues with the previous radio system, called OpenSky, date back to 1996, when then-governor Tom Ridge authorized $179 million to replace an even older one. Over two decades, costs for maintenance and improvements ballooned to more than $850 million.

Plus, DePasquale noted, OpenSky never worked properly.

“Some troopers found the old system so unreliable that they instead used their cell phones to communicate,” he said. “Its technical failures hampered numerous investigations, including the manhunt for convicted killer Eric Frein.”

This time around, DePasquale said, things are going better.

The project is within its budget and 45 counties are already using the new radio system. It’s expected to be fully online by its 2021 deadline.

He said his audit did, however, turn up a couple things that could have gone better.

State police should have better documented potential conflicts of interest during the process for awarding a contract, and should have recorded issues in the testing process more thoroughly.

DePasquale said state police and the Governor’s Office of Administration, which is also helping manage the upgrade, have been responsive and cooperated with the audit.

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