Scarce Radio Frequency Spectrum Requires More Modern IT, Watchdog Finds

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A new report documents the information technology upgrades that need to be addressed within federal agencies to support radio-frequency usage and sharing.

Updated information technology systems are needed in the federal workspace to better allocate and distribute vital radio-frequency spectrum technology across government business activity, a new report posits. 

Outlined in a recent Government Accountability Office report, a series of government officials discussed how an increasing demand for radio frequency spectrum put strain on outdated technologies that manage it. The agency was mandated to conduct this report by Congress, which also requested that federal agencies begin to develop plans to modernize internal systems to better manage radio-frequency spectrum usage and interagency sharing.

Radio-frequency technology is used in a slew of business processes and operations, including air traffic control and communications, weather analysis, law enforcement, national defense procedures and wildfire containment efforts. 

The demand for more spectrum poses a problem, however, for agencies without the upgraded technology to utilize and manage it.

“Some agency officials we interviewed recognized that increasing demand for more spectrum would likely necessitate increased spectrum sharing in the future, and said that existing spectrum-related IT is not sufficient to support the change,” the report said. “They recognized that spectrum-related IT modernization could help address this challenge.”

The GAO report highlighted inefficiencies reported among agencies’ current IT systems that help employ vital spectrum usage. Agencies like the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Department of Defense lead requests regarding IT equipment and software modernization, including increased automation tools and more robust cybersecurity. Both NTIA and Defense officials also said that improving data collection procedures could make spectrum management more efficient across agencies. 

The Federal Aviation Administration, an agency whose IT systems rely heavily on spectrum management to regulate air travel needs, told GAO officials that spectrum-related IT modernization is a necessity to keep up with the use of advanced and emerging technologies. 

Radio-frequency spectrum needs have made headlines recently amid a row between private sector telecommunications companies, the FAA, the Federal Communications Commission and the White House, regarding the safety of 5G network deployments back in January. 

Andrew Von Ah, the director for Telecommunications Issues at GAO, said that this is the first in a two-part series of reports documenting agency plans for IT modernization to improve federal spectrum management efforts. 

“This is a stage setter which lays out the systems and tools that agencies have to manage their spectrum use, and what modernization efforts could bring in terms of improving agencies management of spectrum and facilitating greater sharing of spectrum resources,” Von Ah told Nextgov