Congress Passes Bill Requiring Interoperability at DHS Agencies

The House passed by voice vote a bill (HR 615) to require the Department of Homeland Security to take steps to ensure that its component agencies have interoperable communications. The House agreed to a Senate amendment to HR 615, which the House had passed in February on a 379-0 vote (TRDaily, Feb. 3). The Senate approved that amendment on June 11. The bill now heads to President Obama.

The Department of Homeland Security Interoperable Communications Act was introduced by Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. (D., N.J.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee’s emergency preparedness, response, and communications subcommittee. The legislation would require the under secretary-management at DHS to take action to ensure department components can communicate with each other.

The Senate amendment made several changes to the bill that originally cleared the House, including by changing the deadlines DHS faces under the legislation. For example, it gives DHS 180 days, rather than 120 days, to submit to Congress a strategy for achieving and maintaining communications interoperability. Also, the revised legislation gives DHS 100 days, rather than 220 days, to submit a follow-up report on the status of the strategy’s implementation.

The amended bill also requires such reports to be issued every two years after that for six years, rather than indefinitely. DHS’s Office of Inspector General recently noted that the department has failed to ensure that its component agencies can communicate with each other despite a 2012 IG report that cited that deficiency (TRDaily, June 8).

“Interoperable communications is essential to emergency response and homeland security operations,” Rep. Payne said after today’s House action. “I am pleased the House of Representatives has passed the amended version of my bill, which will finally put DHS on the path to achieving Department-wide interoperable communications. This will enhance the safety of DHS’ boots on the ground and the communities they serve.”

“Fully functioning interoperable communications is a public safety necessity and is essential to DHS’ ability to successfully carry out its mission,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D., Miss.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee. “H.R. 615 will put DHS on the right track.”- Paul Kirby,