Monday, the DHS Interoperable Communications Act (HR 615), which requires the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Under Secretary for Management to maintain interoperable communications among the components of the department was signed into law by President Obama.
Under the new law, DHS is also required to create and submit to Congress a strategy to achieve department-wide interoperable communications that includes known interoperability challenges and gaps and projected milestones. Payne introduced the legislation in response to DHS’ ongoing lack of a robust and comprehensive interoperable communications strategy.
The DHS Interoperable Communications Act is the first bill of 2015 to pass out of the Committee on Homeland Security and be signed into law.
The act was earlier amended and passed by the Senate.
In a November 2012 audit of DHS’ oversight of interoperable communications, DHS’s Office of Inspector General (IG) found that over 10 years since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, only 0.25 percent of the radios uses by DHS components could access and communicate over the specified common channel. Additionally, only 20 percent of the radios had the correct settings for the common channel.
In a May 2015 verification review of its 2012 audit, the IG found that although DHS had begun initiating corrective actions, the plans have not been finalized and there is no timetable to do so. Consequently, DHS is underprepared for emergencies and lacks proper communications capabilities for daily operations and planned events.
“This is a great victory for New Jersey and for our entire nation,” said the bill’s author, New Jersey Democrat Rep. Payne, ranking member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications, “The law sets up the Department of Homeland Security to finally achieve department-wide interoperable communications, a necessity for ensuring the safety of DHS personnel and the communities they serve. I thank President Obama for swiftly signing the DHS Interoperable Communications Act into law. And, just as I fought to get this vital legislation done, I will continue to fight to make sure emergency personnel are fully prepared to protect the safety of our communities.”
Payne introduced the legislation in response to DHS’ ongoing lack of a robust and comprehensive interoperable communications strategy, as identified in the IG’s May 2015 verification review of its 2012 audit, which found although DHS had begun initiating corrective actions in response to the audit, the plans had not been finalized and there was no timetable to do so. Consequently, DHS is underprepared for emergencies and lacks proper communications capabilities for daily operations and planned events.