- The Washington Times - Monday, June 8, 2015

Personnel within the Department of Homeland Security still cannot communicate with one another during a terrorist attack, even though the federal agency has spent $430 million on radios since 9/11, an inspector general report found.

The DHS has not established an effective governing structure to ensure that it achieves departmentwide interoperable communications, despite being told in November 2012 that the flaw needed to be addressed right away, said the watchdog report, released Monday.

Investigators say they conducted interviews with officials who raised concerns about equipment compatibility. Those officials also complained about the lack of departmentwide interoperable communications training, according to the report.

“Specifically, one official said that radio equipment is outdated and not compatible with the radio system used by state agencies,” the report states. “Another official told us that the components’ radio users are not being trained to access the DHS common channel. Other officials noted a lack of DHS-wide interoperable communications testing and training exercises.”

Less than one-fourth of 1 percent of DHS radio users tested could access and use the specified common channel to communicate, and only 20 percent of those tested contained the correct program settings for the common channel, the inspector general found.

“We are disappointed to see the lack of progress in this area. DHS leadership must prioritize effective interoperable communications, a fundamental aspect of the homeland security mission,” said Inspector General John Roth.

The government watchdog tried to test radios at a Transportation Security Administration location, but found none of the radios it tested had the common channel programmed. Asked how the agency communicated with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, most likely at an international airport, the facility manager said transportation security officers didn’t need to communicate with other DHS agencies by radio, but could use a phone or visit in person instead.

The findings indicate that if a terrorist attack similar to the one that took place on Sept. 11, 2001, were to occur, then CBP personnel and the Transportation Security Administration, which fall under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security, would not have the ability to coordinate an operation involving multiple airports.

“Unfortunately, DHS components’ inability to communicate effectively on the DHS common channel persists,” the report states. “Although the Department has initiated corrective actions, including a draft communications interoperability plan and draft management directives to standardize Department-wide radio activities, these documents have not been finalized. Moreover, DHS was unable to provide a timetable for finalizing and disseminating these documents.”

The report mentioned TSA radios couldn’t communicate with other DHS agency radios during the Boston Marathon bombings and that having the DHS common channel configured “would have been useful at those times.”

DHS agrees it has some work to do.

“Since the formation of DHS, the Department has worked to integrate multiple, existing radio communications systems from the legacy organizations that were brought together,” said DHS spokesman Justin Greenberg in a statement. “While these systems often require significant technological improvements, the Department concurs with the Inspector General’s recommendation and is developing essential policies and procedures to help ensure that Department-wide tactical radio communications are standardized and functional across DHS components.”

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