- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 20, 2015

Homeland Security still allows local police and fire departments to spend billions of dollars on communications equipment that isn’t “interoperable,” meaning agencies can’t easily communicate with each other, hampering their response in emergencies, the department’s inspector general said.

The problem lingers nearly 14 years after it was highlighted during the response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which saw agencies using different equipment and unable to coordinate.

Congress and the Bush and Obama administrations have tried to help solve the issue, pressuring local agencies to buy equipment that can communicate — but the inspector general found Homeland Security doled out more than $5 billion in grant money over the last few years that could still have been spent on substandard equipment.

“Ensuring interoperable communications is a vital aspect of the homeland security mission,” Inspector General John Roth said.

Homeland Security officials said they’ll rewrite grant guidance to ensure that any federal money be spent on communications equipment that is interoperable.

Problems were highlighted again earlier this year when firefighters responded to a fire in the District of Columbia’s subway system, and their communications equipment didn’t work right. They had to resort to using cell phones to coordinate efforts.

Members of Congress had requested the inspector general’s review after McClatchy news reports that Motorola was winning contracts for federal grant money while still offering substandard equipment. The lawmakers accused the company of “questionable practices” and said taxpayers’ money was being wasted, with Motorola charging as much as $7,500 for radios that could be bought far cheaper.

Motorola called the McClatchy articles “innuendo.”


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