Radio interoperability elusive at DHS

Tools

The goal of interoperable Homeland Security Department radio communications remains elusive, despite $430 million invested to that end over the past decade, says the DHS office of inspector general.

In a report (.pdf) dated Nov. 2, auditors say components mainly develop and manage their own radio programs with no formal coordination between them. As a result, when auditors tested 382 radios from various DHS components, they found that only 20 percent contained the correct program settings for the DHS common channel. Of those radios, 54 percent lacked the common frequency in the first place while another 26 percent were programmed for it, but incorrectly.

There are approximately 123,000 radio field users within DHS, the majority from Customs and Border Protection or the Transportation Security Administration.

When auditors approached 479 of those users, they found that 72 percent didn't know about the DHS common channel. Twenty five percent of users knew about the channel, but couldn't find it on their radio. In fact, only one user was able to access and communicate, presumably only with himself, using the DHS common channel.

Auditors say lack of an effective governing structure is to blame for the state of affairs. DHS hasn't lacked for offices or committees meant to establish interoperability among component, auditors note, but multiple management and organizational changes have proved a hindrance to effective oversight, they say.

The most recent addition has been the Joint Wireless Program Management Office, whose charter was finalized in April. Effectively, the office "has no authority to implement and enforce standardized policies and procedures," auditors say, and recommend that DHS create an organization with actual power.

It's a recommendation DHS rejects in its official response. In a letter from the DHS GAO-OIG liaison office, DHS states that "it has already establishes a structure with the necessary authority," although officials did say that they will "more efficiently leverage the existing structure" in the future.

For more:
- download the report, OIG-13-06 (.pdf)

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