DHS IG Says Agency Must Improve Interoperability Gear Grant Guidance

The Department of Homeland Security’s grant guidance for acquiring public safety communications equipment has failed to include specific requirements to ensure that gear is interoperable, the DHS Office of Inspector General said in audit findings released today.  The audit, which was conducted at the request of members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, found that guidance issued by the Office of Emergency Communications and the Federal Emergency Management Agency “is unclear, inconsistent, and does not prevent grantees from purchasing non-interoperable communications equipment.”

The report noted that OEC developed the National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP) and SAFECOM guidance for public safety agencies, but that neither “dictates specific requirements when purchasing emergency communications equipment. FEMA’s grant guidance also does not specify interoperability requirements.”

It said that “OEC officials explained that they do not have the legislative authority to mandate the requirements in the SAFECOM Guidance or issue additional requirements-based guidance.”

OIG personnel interviewed nine statewide interoperability coordinators, all of whom said that “SAFECOM Guidance is the primary DHS grant guidance they use to advise grantees purchasing interoperable communications equipment. However, five statewide coordinators indicated that the SAFECOM Guidance language was not clear and consistent when describing requirements for compliance with interoperability standards.”

The OIG recommended that DHS’s under secretary-management ensure that OEC and FEMA “develop consistent requirements-based language in grant guidance and grant agreement documents to ensure DHS uses its grant funds to purchase interoperable emergency communications equipment.”

OIG also said that the FEMA administrator should “ensure consistency in Public Safety Communications grant guidance between the Funding Opportunity Announcements and the grant award packages, which include the DHS Standard Terms and Conditions.”

Read report here:

The report noted that DHS concurred with the two recommendations.

In response to the first recommendation, DHS told the OIG in a July 9 letter included in the report that fiscal year 2015 grant guidance mandated compliance with SAFECOM guidance and that OEC is working with FEMA “to include an additional element” in the SAFECOM grant guidance. FEMA and OEC also plan to coordinate interoperable communications grants through a memorandum of agreement. OEC also plans to provide consistent language across grant and SAFECOM guidance. The estimated completion date of improvements is April 30, 2016.

In response to the second OIG recommendation, DHS said it added language so that FY 2015 preparedness grants mandated compliance with the SAFECOM guidance.

“Ensuring interoperable communications is a vital aspect of the homeland security mission. I am pleased that the Department has agreed with our recommendations to improve its grant guidance, which should ensure that taxpayer funds are used to purchase equipment that will actually work in an emergency,” DHS IG John Roth said in a news release.

The audit was conducted at the request of Reps. Anna G. Eshoo (D., Calif.), the ranking member of the House communications and technology subcommittee, and Diana DeGette (D., Colo.), the ranking member of the oversight and investigations subcommittee, as well as then-Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D., Calif.), who was then ranking member of the full House Commerce Committee (TRDaily, July 15, 2014).

The lawmakers asked for the probe in the wake of a news report that states and localities had awarded non-competitive public safety communications equipment contracts to Motorola Solutions, Inc. The report released today did not mention Motorola. – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com