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Department of Homeland Security Interoperable Communications Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. PAYNE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I rise in strong support of H.R. 4289, the Department of Homeland Security Interoperable Communications Act.

Mr. Speaker, when I began my work on this subcommittee last year, I was shocked to learn how much money had been spent on interoperable communications since the September 11 terrorist attacks. Nationwide, we have spent over $13 billion to achieve interoperable communications at the State and local level, and we are not there yet.

Given the degree of attention that the Federal Government, in general, and DHS, in particular, have devoted to interoperability, I was surprised to learn that DHS has not achieved Department-wide interoperability.

Police officers and firefighters from Newark to Jersey City and across the 10th Congressional District of New Jersey never leave my office without reminding me how important interoperable communications are. Nevertheless, according to a November 2012 inspector general report, DHS has invested over $430 million into communications capabilities for its 123,000 radio users since 2003, but Department ``personnel do not have reliable interoperable communications for daily operations, planned events, and emergencies.''

Indeed, the inspector general testified before the committee in May that in 2012 it asked 479 DHS field radio users to access and use the specified channel to communicate. Only one of those 479 radio users--one of 479--could get on the common channel. That is a 99.8 percent failure rate.

The problem is not technology. Instead, the inspector general found that the Department had not established and implemented protocols to ensure that components put practices in place to achieve interoperability.

H.R. 4289, the DHS Interoperable Communications Act, which I introduced with my colleague on the Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee, Chairwoman BROOKS, requires that certain actions be taken by DHS leadership to drive components in the field towards interoperability. The legislation directs the Under Secretary for Management to issue policies and directives related to interoperability, develop a strategy to achieve DHS-wide interoperability, and report to Congress biannually on the Department's progress.

Interoperable communications capabilities are critical to the mission DHS carries out and to first responders across the United States. DHS must lead by example.

Toward that end, I was encouraged that the Department's acting Under Secretary for Management, Chris Cummiskey, expressed his commitment to addressing this issue when he appeared before the subcommittee last month. It is my hope that this legislation will bolster his efforts and make it clear to everyone in the Department that Congress is looking to DHS to achieve interoperability.

Before reserving my time, I would like to thank Subcommittee Chairwoman BROOKS for working with me on this measure. We have found that there are many issues in terms of this matter, and we have worked in a bipartisan manner to make sure that interoperability is achieved.

I would also like to thank Chairman McCaul and Ranking Member Thompson for their help in addressing this issue.

Mr. Speaker, we have looked at this issue. We continue to talk to first responders throughout my district and throughout the Nation. We know that these issues around homeland security are bipartisan, and we have been able to work on this committee in a manner which we all have the same goal, which is to make sure this Nation is safe and the homeland is secure.

I urge my colleagues to support improving the interoperable communications at DHS by voting for H.R. 4289. Our communities are safer when DHS has the capabilities necessary to effectively carry out its mission. Mr. Speaker, we always have to make sure that we keep our first responders safe.

Mr. Speaker, interoperable communications capabilities are essential to DHS' ability to carry out its mission on a day-to-day basis when disaster strikes. H.R. 4289 would put DHS on the path to achieving cross-component interoperable communications, and I urge my colleagues to support this measure. We must protect our protectors. Our first responders deserve the ability to communicate with each other.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.


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