Friday, May 3, 2013



Lack of Radio Operability Emblematic of DHS Management Challenges,
Experts Say
By: Mickey McCarter
04/29/2013 ( 8:00am)

Three years ago, Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) and former Rep. Gabrielle
Giffords (D-Ariz.) visited the outskirts of Arizona's border with
Mexico on a fact-finding mission in the wake of the murder of a
rancher there.

While talking to ranchers along the Southwest border after the death
of Robert Krentz, the lawmakers found that communications often could
be extremely unreliable. When trying to contact the secretary of
homeland security, their signal would often drop.

The problem underscores communication challenges facing law
enforcement personnel at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS),
Barber noted in a hearing Friday. Those communications problems
persist three years later.

The topic of communications capability and interoperability was a
recurring area of discussion at the hearing, dedicated to wasteful
duplicity and fragmentation among DHS programs.

Much duplication and fragmentation at DHS comes from a lack of
centralized governance, experts told the House Homeland Security
oversight subcommittee. The same problem has slowed DHS progress
toward radio interoperability, Anne Richards, an assistant DHS
inspector general (IG), testified.

In a report released in November 2012, the DHS IG surveyed DHS radio
users and found that only one out of 479 surveyed could access and
communicate on a designated common channel for the department. Only
20 percent of radios tested by the IG office were programmed to reach
the common channel, Richards said.

Despite an internal goal of radio interoperability among DHS
personnel, the department was not reaching its goal because of weak
governance for the goal. The IG report at the time recommended DHS
centralize authority for achieving interoperability.

But DHS responded that a joint working group, coordinated through
memoranda of understanding (MOUs) between DHS components, would
effectively provide governance to achieve interoperability.

So the recommendation remains open, Richards said. In total, the DHS
IG office has made 8,000 recommendations in the past ten years, with
about 15 percent of them remaining open. That 15 percent scales to
$650 million program values, economically speaking, she added.

Meanwhile, departmentwide interoperability lags at DHS because radios
are not programmed to the common channel and radio operators are
unaware of its existence. DHS was working on guidance on the issue,
as recommended by the IG office, but rejected centralized governance
of the issue. DHS has the authority to strengthen management of the
issue, but chooses to work through the MOUs.

"My audit work indicates that collaboration is not at the point where
it is going to get them there quickly," Richards said.

The IG office also is examining radio inventory issues at the
department, and a draft report is in the works. Richards predicted
the IG office would release it within the next quarter.

With that audit, the IG office may reach similar conclusions as it
did with a recent audit of DHS detection equipment, Richards'
testimony suggested. In that audit, the IG office found that various
DHS components did not identify detection equipment such as metal
detectors in a common way.

"They had it on their inventories but they all recorded it
differently," Richards said. As such, DHS agencies did not have
information readily available to assist it in sharing or shifting

The IG office prescribed standard data dictionaries to enable
components to define specific equipment with common terms. With those
standards, DHS could share information on its radios and perhaps
speed its goal of achieving departmentwide interoperability as well
as becoming "One DHS," Richards said.

Cathleen Berrick, managing director of homeland security at the
Government Accountability Office (GAO), noted generally DHS IT
management continues to face high risk, despite a recent high-level
review of major IT programs. That review only accounts for about 20
percent of the IT portfolio throughout the department, Berrick said.

Any DHS management challenge requires a roadmap of the root causes of
fundamental management problems, Berrick said. From there, DHS must
identify gaps and dedicate resources to address those gaps. If faced
with limited funding, DHS must prioritize its initiatives.

Moreover, a system of metrics and oversight structure can demonstrate
progress in addressing issues, Berrick said. DHS must have
sustainable, repeatable plans for tackling management challenges.

DHS has a good strategy and strong metrics for many of these
challenges and must now carry out that strategy to fruition, Berrick

Henry Willis, director of the Rand Homeland Security and Defense
Center, suggested Congress could provide more oversight over some DHS
programs by demanding to review analyses of major decisions.

And lawmakers should continue to ensure adequate and sustained
funding for analytic capabilities, Willis said, quoting the maxim,
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

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