Payne’s Emergency Communications Bill Heads to President’s Desk for Signature

Jun 23, 2015 Issues: National Security

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications, applauded the U.S. House of Representatives’ approval of an amended version of his legislation to improve interoperable communications at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The bill will now go to President Obama’s desk.

“Interoperable communications is essential to emergency response and homeland security operations,” said Congressman Payne, Jr. “But almost 14 years after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security still does not have in place the policies and procedures necessary for successful communication among its components. 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.”

The DHS Interoperable Communications Act (H.R. 615), which was amended and passed by the Senate earlier this month, charges DHS’ Under Secretary for Management with maintaining interoperable communications among the components of the Department. DHS is required to create and submit to Congress a strategy to achieve Department-wide interoperable communications that includes known interoperability challenges and gaps and projected milestones. Payne, Jr. introduced the legislation in response to DHS’ ongoing lack of a robust and comprehensive interoperable communications strategy.

In a November 2012 audit of DHS’ oversight of interoperable communications, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) found that over ten years since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, only 0.25 percent of the radios uses by DHS components could access and communicate over the specified common channel. Additionally, only 20 percent of the radios had the correct settings for the common channel.

In a May 2015 verification review of its 2012 audit, the IG found that although the DHS has begun initiating corrective actions, the plans have not been finalized and there is no timetable to do so. Consequently, DHS is underprepared for emergencies and lacks proper communications capabilities for daily operations and planned events.

Having passed both houses of Congress, the DHS Interoperable Communications Act will now head to the President to be signed into law. The legislation is the first bill of 2015 to pass out of the Committee on Homeland Security and head to the President for his signature.