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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Homeland Security’s Multi-Billion-Dollar Bet on Better Communications
“Interoperability” Cash Aids Motorola and Other Contractors, but are First Responders Better Off?
WASHINGTON - February 17 - Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has spent billions of dollars to improve emergency communications among first responders, but much of the money has been poorly managed and has yet to yield substantive improvements, according to a new investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, "Homeland Security's Billion-Dollar Bet on Better Communications."
More than $4.3 billion in federal grant money was spent between 2004 and 2008 to improve "interoperability" among first responders nationwide, more than any other DHS initiative, but the Center found that Motorola and other contractors may well have benefited more than first responders.
Part of the reason is that early on, Congress directed the vast majority of DHS interoperability dollars toward hardware: portable radios; "repeaters" that extend a signal's range; and antenna and tower systems. But equipment alone cannot create interoperability; planning and organization are crucial. Support for those less tangible needs has come much more slowly. Experts say that without such support, the value of spending on equipment is questionable. In 2009, DHS officials were still struggling to convince Congress that first responders could reach basic communication goals.
"Billions have been spent in an effort to make America safer, but the big question still remains whether the push has benefited the men and women on the ground or if it has primarily supported a burgeoning homeland security industrial complex," said Center Executive Director Bill Buzenburg. "While a host of agencies are now outfitted with the latest technologies, our investigation found that many of them lack the training and skills to use them efficiently."
The Center's new investigation is part of a larger collaboration with The Center for Investigative Reporting - a year-and-a-half-long effort that broadly examined how effectively governments at all levels have managed money and programs dedicated to homeland security. The project, Homeland Security: Boom and Bust, includes a dozen stories and an interactive map that provides fresh information on the use of readiness funds in all 50 states.