GAO calls for formal Safecom deals

"Project Safecom: Key Cross-Agency Emergency Communications Effort Requires Stronger Collaboration"

The Safecom communications interoperability project will have a hard time succeeding until formal agreements exist with all agencies involved, General Accounting Office officials say.

The current Safecom program management office at the Homeland Security Department has established a governance structure that emphasizes collaboration and developing grants guidance for all public safety-related agencies. More than two years in, however, the program itself is still far from its objective of interoperability at all levels of government, according to a GAO report released today.

Part of the problem, agency officials said, is that the program has changed management four times, including a complete team turnover while at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"The changing of project teams approximately every six to nine months has meant that much of the effort spent on the project has been made repeatedly to establish administrative structures, develop program plans, and obtain stakeholder input and support," wrote Linda Koontz, GAO's director of information management issues.

For now, the program appears to have found significant executive support within its new home at DHS' Science and Technology Directorate. However, the program office is still working to address GAO officials' primary concern: that there aren't many written formal agreements between the office and its federal partners, and of the few that are in place, some do not have established goals and performance measures.

In their response to the report, DHS officials said the program office has sent draft agreements to its federal partners, including the Agriculture, Defense, Justice, and Treasury departments. Existing agreements define each partner's responsibilities and the level of funding they are committed to providing, but DHS officials agreed that future agreements should include further explanation of both as well as specific performance measures.

Until those agreements are in place, and until they also extend to nonfederal partners, the program will still have trouble achieving its goals, the report states.

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