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June 23, 2015

Interoperable Communications Strategy Bill to Become Law

(WASHINGTON) – Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the final version of H.R. 615, the Department of Homeland Security Interoperable Communications Act, sponsored by Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security's Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications Subcommittee, together with full Committee Ranking Member Thompson, Full Committee Chairman McCaul, and Subcommittee Chairman McSally. H.R. 615 requires DHS to create and submit to Congress a strategy for achieving and maintaining fully functional interoperable communications for daily operations, planned events, and emergencies among its components. This strategy must include a review of past efforts, known interoperability gaps and challenges, guidance to DHS components, detailed expenditures, and projected milestones.

Earlier this month, the DHS Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) issued an updated audit on DHS's oversight of interoperable communications. It found that over ten years after 9/11, only 0.25% of the sampled radios used by DHS components could access and use the specified common channel to communicate and only 20% had the correct settings. The DHS OIG also found that corrective action plans recommended in response to findings of a 2012 DHS OIG audit have not yet been finalized or implemented, and there currently exists no timetable to do so. Not only does this make DHS underprepared for emergencies, it hinders day-to-day operations.

Congressman Payne, Jr. released the following statement on his legislation becoming law:

"Interoperable communications is essential to emergency response and homeland security operations," said Congressman Payne, Jr. "But almost 14 years after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security still does not have in place the policies and procedures necessary for successful communication among its components. I am pleased the House of Representatives has passed the amended version of my bill, which will finally put DHS on the path to achieving Department-wide interoperable communications. This will enhance the safety of DHS' boots on the ground and the communities they serve."

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, added the following statement:

"Fully functioning interoperable communications is a public safety necessity and is essential to DHS' ability to successfully carry out its mission. Three years ago, I was troubled to learn from the DHS Inspector General that DHS lacked cross-component interoperable communications capability, and last month the Inspector General reported that the problem persists. Lack of Department-wide interoperable communications jeopardizes the safety of DHS employees in the field and undermines DHS' mission. H.R. 615 will put DHS on the right track. I want to commend Congressman Payne for introducing this legislation and congratulate him on getting it passed the House and Senate."

H.R. 615 was originally passed by the House of Representatives on February 2, 2015 and was passed by the Senate (amended) on June 11, 2015. The bill will become law once it is signed by the President. It will be the first Public Law from the House Committee on Homeland Security this year.

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Media Contact: Adam Comis at (202) 225-9978