Critical Read

Interoperable radio issues still hound DHS

Shutterstock image (by Rob d): radio tower at sunset.

What: Department of Homeland Security Inspector General corrective action report on lack of interoperable radio communications.

Why: Two and a half years after the DHS OIG told the agency that DHS components couldn't communicate with each other over their agency radios in crisis situations like terror attacks, the problem remains. The struggles over interoperable emergency responder radios has dogged DHS and local emergency responders since incompatible radios carried by firefighters and police responders  complicated response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In November 2012, after completing a verification review, the DHS OIG published the results of an audit, “DHS’s Oversight of Interoperable Communications,” that highlighted interoperable radio communication problems. In May, 2015, OIG issued a “Corrective Actions Still Needed to Achieve Interoperable Communications” report. It made the document public on June 8.

In the 2012 report, the OIG found that less than 0.25 percent of DHS radio users it tested could access and use a specified common channel to communicate. The report found only 20 percent of those tested carried the correct program settings for the common channel. At the time, the OIG recommended DHS take care of the problem, so it could effectively use the $430 million worth of radios it has purchased.

In a recent verification review, the OIG said the problem persists. In the “Corrective Actions Still Needed to Achieve Interoperable Communications” report, the OIG concluded DHS' efforts to correct the problem were incomplete. It said DHS's draft communications interoperability plan and draft management directives to standardize department-wide radio activities haven't been finalized. Additionally, it said DHS couldn’t provide a timetable for finalizing and disseminating these documents throughout the department.

“We are disappointed to see the lack of progress in this area. DHS leadership must prioritize effective interoperable communications, a fundamental aspect of the homeland security mission,” Inspector General John Roth in a June 8 statement accompanying release of the report.


"In other words, nearly a decade after the 9/11 Commission highlighted the problem with interoperable communications, DHS components could not talk to one another using about $430 million worth of radios purchased. They could not do so because DHS had not established an effective governing structure with the authority and responsibility to ensure it achieved department-wide interoperable radio communications." -- DHS IG John Roth, in a letter to Russell Deyo, DHS undersecretary for management, accompanying the corrective action report.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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