The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Steve Carpinelli (202) 481-1225

Homeland Security's Multi-Billion-Dollar Bet on Better Communications

“Interoperability” Cash Aids Motorola and Other Contractors, but are First Responders Better Off?


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.

Support for this Center for Public Integrity and Center for Investigative Reporting partnership is provided by the Open Society Institute and the Fund for Constitutional Government.

The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit organization dedicated to producing original, responsible investigative journalism on issues of public concern. The Center is non-partisan and non-advocacy. We are committed to transparent and comprehensive reporting both in the United States and around the world.