In response to a hotline complaint, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) has conducted a review into whether the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) effectively supported operable and interoperable emergency communications for Federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government officials and critical infrastructure operators during the COVID-19 pandemic.
OIG found that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), within DHS, effectively ensured its Priority Telecommunications Services (PTS) program was operable early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The hotline complaint related to a failure in telecommunication connectivity and largely untested telecommunications services. However, OIG was able to confirm that the disconnection was an isolated event and that the telecommunications service provider developed a technical solution to prevent the problem from occurring again. Furthermore, the watchdog found that CISA conducted periodic tests and coordinated simulated tests of priority telecommunications services.
OIG also determined that although CISA measures the performance of two of its priority telecommunications services, it does not have an adequate process in place to validate its performance data. As a result, CISA could report inaccurate information or misrepresent the effectiveness of its PTS program in its quarterly report to the DHS Chief Financial Officer.
The Inspector General consequently recommended that CISA establish a process to validate data reliability. CISA concurred and the agency’s Emergency Communications Division officials agreed there is a need to strengthen existing documentation and communications related to the quality control process for data validation. According to officials, the Division is in the process of ensuring all steps of the quality control process are well understood throughout the PTS Program. In addition, the Emergency Communications Division is committed to automating the process to reduce the administrative burden and increase accuracy on those executing the validation steps. However, Division officials told OIG that they do not believe additional testing or data validation is necessary. Officials believe it is best to strengthen existing processes, which is more cost effective. CISA also noted that modernizing the process will not occur overnight. A plan is being developed to document requirements and identify what application(s) and process enhancements can be streamlined. This effort entails a holistic review of how PTS Program data is transmitted, received, processed, stored, and reported. While this effort has already begun, a concurrent effort focused on educating the appropriate personnel on the current data validation and quality control process is ongoing.