DHS, FCC don't coordinate some networks, GAO says

Agencies lack common vision on emergency radio networks

The Homeland Security Department and the Federal Communications Commission aren't doing enough to coordinate their efforts in strengthening public safety emergency networks, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

DHS and the FCC are working on creating and expanding emergency radio and broadband networks for first responders. However, they are going down different paths and risk creating gaps if they do not do more to integrate their efforts, according to a report from GAO released July 27.

“DHS and FCC have not established a common vision or mutually reinforcing strategies for a nationwide broadband public safety policy, although both agencies play key roles in such a development,” the report said, adding that, without such a vision, there is a risk that a proposed public safety broadband network will not be effective for police, fire and emergency agencies.

“The lack of commonly defined goals for the 700 MHz spectrum and mutually reinforcing strategies with DHS efforts threatens the usefulness and viability of the network for public safety,” the report said.

The FCC, which oversees the radio spectrum, is developing a nationwide broadband network for public safety in the 700 MHz range while DHS is the lead agency for the National Emergency Communications Plan released in July 2008. However, the agencies are not working together effectively, the GAO said.

Overall, DHS and the FCC have not applied best practices to FCC’s efforts to promote a public safety network for emergency communications, and FCC officials described their proposed network as separate from DHS’ emergency communications activities, GAO said.

“According to officials from DHS and FCC, it was either too early or not the agency’s responsibility to undertake these best practices for this effort,” the GAO said. For example, DHS did not submit formal comments to the FCC during the most recent comment period on the 700 MHz network.

GAO recommended that the DHS secretary and the chairman of the FCC establish a joint forum to foster improved collaboration and to align their efforts on emergency communication and the 700 MHz public safety network.

DHS officials agreed with the recommendations, and the FCC mostly agreed with the recommendations and said it is already pursuing similar goals.



About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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