Even as U.S. Border Patrol agents were reporting "critical equipment shortages," the Department of Homeland Security let $28 million worth of radio equipment sit in a warehouse unused for more than a year, the agency's internal watchdog said.
The department lacks an agencywide inventory of all radio equipment it owns and agencywide policies governing the purchases and use of communication equipment, said a report by the Homeland Security Department's inspector general.
"DHS risks wasting taxpayer funds on equipment purchases and radio system investments that are not needed, sustainable, supportable or affordable," the inspector general said.
Investigators found that Homeland Security purchased more than 8,000 pieces of radio equipment valued at $28 million, which then sat in a warehouse for more than year. Some equipment languished for almost two years.
For buying equipment it says it needs, and then not using it — leaving agents in the field high and dry — the Homeland Security Department wins this week's Golden Hammer, a distinction given by The Washington Times to examples of fiscal mismanagement and the waste of taxpayers' money.
The lack of a full inventory of equipment left different offices within the department — including U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — to coordinate their own radio usage policies and purchases, with little central oversight from the parent department, the inspector general said.
Homeland Security officials said in response to the inspector general's findings that they are aware of the issue and are working to create an agencywide inventory for equipment, as well as unifying management decisions on similar issues. As for radios specifically, Homeland Security in 2011 created the Tactical Communications Executive Steering Committee to coordinate and oversee operations and purchases by various offices.
"Since its inception, DHS has steadily improved integration of its operation missions," a response from the agency said.
But Border Patrol officers were reporting shortages of radio equipment for all their agents. The warehouse stores of radios eventually were dispersed to agents in the field. But in August, 2012 — 16 months after the order was given — U.S. Customs and Border Protection is still reporting shortages of equipment.
"DHS does not have reliable department-wide inventory data or an effective governance structure to guide investment decision-making," investigators said.
Investigators said CBP left 6,147 pieces of equipment sitting unused in a warehouse despite listing them as "active," and ICE did the same with 1,740 pieces of equipment despite listing them as "in service."
The inspector general's report did not say that any harm has come to agents because of the shortages, but noted that it is becoming increasingly important for those in the field to be able to stay in constant contact.
"Since 2007, assaults on agents have risen more than 35 percent, including 13 deaths," the inspector general wrote in a report last year.
The Department of Homeland Security operates 20 mobile radio networks and 197,000 pieces of radio equipment — such as walkie-talkies — for more than 120,000 agents. But the technology is becoming outdated.
"Many of these systems have exceeded their service-life and urgently need to be modernized to meet federal and DHS mandates," the inspector general said. A complete overhaul of the inventory could cost as much as $3.2 billion, investigators said.
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