Control of $1B interoperability fund debated

The Homeland Security Department has no clear authority at this time over a $1 billion fund for public safety agency interoperable communications equipment that it has been publicizing as a first responder grant program, according to a Congressional Research Service memorandum.

The Feb. 12 memo was addressed to Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., in response to her request for further information about the fund. DHS said in a Feb. 5 fact sheet released with its fiscal 2008 budget request that it will be co-administering the interoperability grants program with the Commerce Department.

However, according to the CRS memorandum, the department's authority over the $1 billion fund is not yet established. The funding is to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and no memorandum of understanding exists at this time between DHS and the NTIA on administration of the program, CRS said.

The fund is being created through the auction sale of radio spectrum required under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. While most of the proceeds will go to the U.S. Treasury to offset the deficit, $1 billion is designated for grants to be distributed for acquiring, deploying and training for interoperable communications systems for public safety agencies.

Furthermore, Congress approved a provision in a separate bill, the Call Home Act of 2006, stating that the interoperability grants program must receive no less than $1 billion by Sept. 30, 2007.

The DHS fiscal 2008 budget request has provoked debate because it reduces first responder grants to $2.2 billion. While some might argue that the $1 billion interoperability fund is intended to compensate for that reduction, this might not happen because there is no requirement for the $1 billion to be made available in fiscal 2008, CRS said.

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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