Project 25 effort disappointing for first response: GAO

Project 25 industry standards for communications systems compatibility may be providing only minimal benefits in improving first responder radio interoperability, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Industry groups have been developing the Project 25 suite of standards since 1989 to make digital communications systems and devices used by public safety agencies and other agencies in emergency situations compatible with each other.

In distributing $2.15 billion to make first responder radios more compatible since the 9/11 attacks, the Homeland Security Department has strongly encouraged state and local agencies to use the federal funding to purchase radio equipment meeting Project 25 industry standards to foster interoperability, the GAO said.

However, the effectiveness of those standards in making systems more interoperable has not been proven, the GAO said.

"Ambiguities in the standards have led to incompatibilities among products made by different vendors, and no compliance testing has been conducted to determine if those products are interoperable," the GAO said.

Since the Project 25 radios are more expensive, the end result is that state and local agencies may be spending more money to purchase equipment that may not be interoperable and may provide only minimal additional benefits, the GAO concluded.

Furthermore, the Homeland Security Department did not think strategically in distributing the grant funding. The DHS does not have a national plan to guide investments, nor has it required states to develop interoperability plans until recently, the GAO said. The statewide strategic plans are due by Dec. 31.

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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