DHS field agents to transition to mobile devices within 5 years

Homeland Security Department CIO Richard Spires outlined plans for upgrading law enforcement technologies and systems at the department.

The Homeland Security Department is updating its law enforcement technology capabilities with plans for migrating to mobile devices and advances in information sharing, according to CIO Richard Spires.

DHS has set up a joint program office to plot the migration of its law enforcement agents from tactical radios to modern smart phones within five years.

“This is a very big initiative,” Spires said at the AFCEA-Bethesda Law Enforcement Information Technology Day conference on April 18. The phased change in devices could take about five years, he added.

“We want to transition from Land Mobile Radios to a 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution) world,” Spires said. The LTE technical standard applies to smart phones developed in 2011 or later.

One of the prime motivators for the change is the “promise of on-demand video to law enforcement agents in the field. That is very compelling, and will support effective use,” Spires said.

Another factor is the desirability of mobile devices that can allow for biometric identification checks in the field for individuals detained near the border, he added. Customs and Border Protection agents have been asking for that capability, he said.

The joint program office reports directly to himself, Spires added. It is reaching out to industry to leverage available capabilities already in the market. DHS expects to carry out an innovation competition with prizes to spur development of additional capabilities for its needs, he said.

Meanwhile, while subject matter expects from throughout the department are being pulled together for the program office, the department expects to continue to support land mobile radios in the interim.

DHS recently awarded a contract valued at a maximum of $3 billion over five years to 30 vendors of tactical radios.

Spires said the interagency National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) framework for exchanging information has provided a technical underpinning allowing for exchange of data between DHS, Justice, Health and Human Services and others, for a total of 16 federal agencies. The NIEM is an Extensible-Markup Language based system for exchanging data.

Offering an example of how NIEM is applied, Spires said the framework creates a common platform to access numerous state databases for license plate holders, essentially creating a nationwide license-plate search capability that allows officers to check whether a plate is reported stolen or whether its owner is wanted on suspicion of criminal activity. However, while NIEM has been a very useful tool, it has received no line item funding from Congress, he added.

“I am trying to get a line item for it in the budget,” Spires said. “I have tried for three years, and I am not giving up.”

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