The House of Representatives has passed the final version of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Interoperable Communications Act (HR 615,), earlier passed by the Senate, sponsored by Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ), the ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications Subcommittee, together with full committee chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas).
The legislation requires DHS to create and submit to Congress a strategy for achieving and maintaining fully functional interoperable communications for daily operations, planned events and emergencies among its components. This strategy must include a review of past efforts, known interoperability gaps and challenges, guidance to DHS components, detailed expenditures and projected milestones.
Earlier this month, the DHS Office of Inspector General (IG) stated in an updated audit of DHS’s oversight of interoperable communications that it found ] over ten years after 9/11 only 0.25 percent of the sampled radios used by DHS components could access and use the specified common channel to communicate and only 20 percent had the correct settings.
DHS’s Inspector General also found that corrective action plans recommended in response to the findings of a 2012 IG audit have not yet been finalized or implemented, and there currently exists no timetable to do so. Not only does this make DHS underprepared for emergencies, it hinders day-to-day operations.
Interoperable communications is essential to emergency response and homeland security operations,” Payne said. “But almost 14 years after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security still does not have in place the policies and procedures necessary for successful communication among its components. I am pleased the House of Representatives has passed the amended version of my bill, which will finally put DHS on the path to achieving Department-wide interoperable communications. This will enhance the safety of DHS’ boots on the ground and the communities they serve.”
Thompson added that, “Fully functioning interoperable communications is a public safety necessity and is essential to DHS’ ability to successfully carry out its mission. Three years ago, I was troubled to learn from the DHS Inspector General that DHS lacked cross-component interoperable communications capability, and last month the Inspector General reported that the problem persists. Lack of department-wide interoperable communications jeopardizes the safety of DHS employees in the field and undermines DHS’ mission. HR 615 will put DHS on the right track. I want to commend Congressman Payne for introducing this legislation and congratulate him on getting it passed the House and Senate.”
HR 615 was originally passed by the House on February 2, 2015 and was passed by the Senate (amended) on June 11, 2015. The bill will become law once it is signed by the President. It will be the first Public Law from the House Committee on Homeland Security this year.
Thompson and Payne, Jr. said in a joint statement, that, “Almost 14 years after 9/11, it is incredibly disturbing that the Department of Homeland Security still lacks the proper technology and procedures to allow its frontline workers to communicate properly with each other. The department must stop dragging its feet on creating and implementing a communications interoperability plan. This must be a top priority. We urge the Senate to swiftly pass HR 615 so we can put the Department on a path forward to fix this long-standing problem. Fully functioning interoperable communications is a public safety necessity and is critical for DHS to properly fulfill its mission.”
The legislation requires:
- The Under Secretary to submit to the House and Senate homeland security committees a strategy for achieving and maintaining such communications, including for daily operations, planned events, and emergencies, that includes:
- An assessment of interoperability gaps in radio communications among the DHS components;
- Information on DHS efforts and activities, since November 1, 2012, and planned, to achieve and maintain interoperable communications;
- An assessment of obstacles and challenges to achieving and maintaining interoperable communications;
- Information on, and an assessment of, the adequacy of mechanisms available to the Under Secretary to enforce and compel compliance with interoperable communications policies and directives of DHS;
- Guidance provided to DHS components to implement such policies and directives; and
- The total amount of DHS expenditures since November 1, 2012, and projected future expenditures to achieve interoperable communications.
The dates upon which DHS-wide interoperability is projected to be achieved for voice, data, and video communications, respectively, and interim milestones