Audit finds fault with National Communications System

The National Communications System was not fully prepared to carry out procurements needed to support the Homeland Security Department’s disaster assistance during the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricane season, concludes a new report from the department’s Office of the Inspector General.

The inspector general contracted with the public accounting firm Regis and Associates to conduct a review of how the communications system managed its assigned missions during the period.

The national communications system was established in the 1960s to provide emergency communications for national security and disaster assistance. The agency sets up telephone and data communications immediately after disasters under instructions from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

But its procurement practices in 2005 left much to be desired, according to the review by Regis and Associates. The agency was not effective in carrying out administrative tasks associated with its mission assignments, the report states.

“The National Communications System reacted quickly to restore emergency telecommunications services to the affected areas,” the report said. “However, it did not initially have a full understanding of its procurement and financial management responsibilities under the mission assignments.”

The national communications system relied on its business relationships with the General Services Administration, Federal Communications Commission and the Defense Information Technology Contracting Organization to carry out its tasks.

But there were gaps in its performance. “NCS was not fully prepared for unexpected types of procurements, perhaps partially because it incorrectly assumed that mission assignments conveyed their own authority to order goods and services,” the report stated.

The communications system did not have procedures for identifying assets or for developing supporting documents needed by FEMA, according to the report.

The 36-page report was published March 3 on the inspector general’s Web site.

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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