Homeland Security Has Spent $430 Million on Radios Its Employees Don’t Know How to Use

Written by Theodoric Meyer

Getting the agencies responsible for national security to communicate better was one of the main reasons the Department of Homeland Security was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

But according to a recent report from the department’s inspector general, one aspect of this mission remains far from accomplished.

DHS has spent $430 million over the past nine years to provide radios tuned to a common, secure channel to 123,000 employees across the country. Problem is, no one seems to know how to use them.

Only one of 479 DHS employees surveyed by the inspector general’s office was actually able to use the common channel, according to the report. Most of those surveyed — 72 percent — didn’t even know the common channel existed. Another 25 percent knew the channel existed but weren’t able to find it; 3 percent were able to find an older common channel, but not the current one.

The investigators also found that more than half of the radios did not have the settings for the common channel programmed into them. Only 20 percent of radios tested had all the correct settings.

The radios are supposed to help employees of Customs and Border Patrol, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Secret Service, and other agencies with DHS communicate during crises, as well as normal operations.

DHS officials did not immediately respond to questions from ProPublica about what effect the radio problems could have on how the agency handles an emergency.

The $430 million paid for radio infrastructure and maintenance as well as the actual radios.

In a response letter to the report, Jim H. Crumpacker, the Department of Homeland Security’s liaison between the Government Accountability Office and the inspector general, wrote that DHS had made “significant strides” in improving emergency communications since 2003. But he acknowledged that DHS “has had some challenges in achieving Department-wide interoperable communications goals.”

The recent inspector general’s report is the latest in a string of critical assessments DHS has received on its efforts to improve communication between federal, state and local agencies. The Government Accountability Office reported in 2007 that the Department of Homeland Security had “generally not achieved” this  goal.

DHS has assigned a blizzard of offices and committees to oversee its radio effort since 2003, which the inspector general’s report claimed had “hindered DHS’ ability to provide effective oversight.”

Also, none of the entities “had the authority to implement and enforce their recommendations,” the report concluded. Tanya Callender, a spokeswoman for the inspector general, said the current office overseeing the effort hadn’t been given the authority to force agencies to use the common channel or even to provide instructions for programming the radios.

The inspector general recommended DHS standardize its policies regarding radios, which DHS agreed to do. But it rejected a second recommendation that it overhaul the office overseeing the radios to give it more authority.

“DHS believes that it has already established a structure with the necessary authority to ensure” that its various agencies can communicate, Crumpacker wrote in his response letter.

This post was originally published by ProPublica.


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Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/flickr


Betsy M.
Betsy M5 years ago

If DHS was closed, and the money went to infrastructure, we would be much more secure.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill5 years ago

Things like this is why we have a $16Trillion deficit. This is what Washington needs to be correcting. We have a spending problem NOT a tax problem! Look out for EVERYone's taxes to go up the first of the year which is going to really hurt this economy.

Marie W.
Marie W5 years ago

DHS [AKA Big Brother] according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office has not caught a single terrorist. Of 353 arrests from November 2010 to April 2012, 68 percent were for immigration offenses, drug charges, or outstanding criminal warrants.
75 million Americans fly each year and every one of them is inconvenienced. Americans are so frustrated with the new rules that they’ve skipped some 41 million trips that they would otherwise have taken.
Oh, and all of the 9/11 hijackers could have passed through the current screening procedures, albeit possibly not with box cutters. But there are other weapons that would easily pass through – especially if one includes weapons that could be easily assembled aboard the plane. Not to mention naked photos, groping, abuse of the disabled, elderly, etc. and for what?
Oh DHS is now on the highways, train stations, malls and probably your house next!
More time and money is spent monitoring American citizens and hassling them than accomplishing anything. Make sure the sheeple know their place. The KGB would be envious.

Stacey M.
Stacey M5 years ago

Jim L. - I sure am glad you see 430 MILLION as a drop in the bucket - it's all these DROPS that have America going off a fiscal cliff! MORON!

jo Howard
jo Howard5 years ago

So blind our congress, of who cannot see where to cut spending or to cut programs, let alone to compromise in any particular area. DHS is only one stop, how about with the Energy Dept, AG Dept, or the FDA, EPA and or DOD, or with a program such as Foreign Aid. The list is long where money could be saved without having to attack Social Security, Medicare and or Medicaid or to let down our country’s guard and its safety, not to mention a possible likelihood of raising tax rates. Is it that congress is too blind to see, or is it too grossly inflicted with self interest, greed and corruption? Obama seems to be willing to do whatever it takes to avoid the cliff, but congress certainly is not. Why? Apparently because the losers in Washington are still grumbling in the halls of congress; and how terribly sad this is for our great nation to face such child like foolishness. But really, for the truth, it boils down to special interest and those in support thereof which seems to bog down any likely compromise to come forth soon. The “whatever it takes” just may be the President’s VETO power, although the threat not actually said.

Carl O.
Carl O5 years ago

Tax payer money well spent no doubt. 9/11 taught us that the first responders could not communicate and work together. So we get new radios and the responders are not taught or trained in how to operate them.

Winn Adams
Winn Adams5 years ago

OMG, how surprising, NOT

Terry V.
Terry V5 years ago

Raise your hand if this surprises you

Beth M.
Beth M5 years ago

Gee, what else is new? Agree with Mary B, why didn't anyone report to superiors that they didn't know how to use the radios and keep complaining until someone did something? Can anyone do their jobs?

Jim Lauder
Jim Lauder5 years ago

Oh c'mon now. 430 million out of a budget of nearly 100 BILLION is really just a drop in the bucket. If we did a little more research, I bet WAY more waste could be found. Yup, another scary Bush-league response to a problem.