DHS interoperability effort hits snags

The Homeland Security Department is making slow progress in its efforts to achieve interoperability in first responder communications, Andrew Maner, the department's chief financial officer, said at an academic conference today.

Lack of compatible radio and data communications among first responders became a major issue after 9/11 because of the inability of some firefighters, police and emergency medical personnel at the World Trade Center disaster scene to communicate by radio. It's a longstanding problem affecting most public safety agencies nationwide.

"Interoperability is a very interesting topic?a source of pride and frustration," Maner said at a homeland security budget conference at George Washington University, sponsored by Equity International Inc. business development firm.

"It's one of our primary goals," Maner said. "But I don't know the breaking point for this?how much money it is going to take to achieve it. It feels endless. I feel like we should make more progress."

Maner commented on the current fiscal 2006 budget, but he declined to provide details of the upcoming fiscal 2007 budget request for DHS before it is announced by the president, which is expected to occur in February.

But Maner did say he was pleased with the fiscal 2007 budget request and that it will address six major priorities of the department established by Secretary Michael Chertoff's second-stage review: preparedness, transportation security, border security, information sharing, DHS financial management and IT management, and realignments.

Asked about the Integrated Wireless Network?a $10 billion enterprise network being created for DHS, Treasury and Justice departments?Maner suggested some consolidation may be needed among various wireless initiatives, including those sponsored by the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard.

"We have an enormous amount of money being spent on wireless, and it dawned on us that it's not all pointed in the right direction," Maner said. Without necessarily changing budgets, the various wireless programs can "be done more cohesively," he said. "It screams out for some consolidation of efforts."

Maner on Jan. 18 announced his resignation from DHS, effective March 3. The White House said it would nominate David Norquist, deputy undersecretary of Defense for budget and appropriations affairs, to replace Maner.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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