The Department of Homeland Security spent $430 million over nine years on inter-agency radios for use in national emergencies, but agents don't know how to utilize them.
After 9/11, government agencies needed a better way to communicate with each other during wide-scale disasters. To that end, the DHS distributed radios, all tuned to a common, secure channel, to 123,000 employees across the country.
A recent report from the Inspector General found most employees didn't know how to use the radios or knew about the secure channel.
The IG surveyed 479 employees and only one person was able to use the channel; 79% did not know the common channel even existed. Of those employees who knew about the secure channel, 25% did not know how to access it.
When tested, only 20% of the radios had all the correct settings to use the new channel. The $430 million did not just pay for the radios, but also the radio infrastructure and maintenance.
While DHS assigned many offices and committees to their radio efforts, the IG found that none of them could “implement or enforce their recommendations.” The current office in charge “had not been given the authority to force agencies to use the common channel or even provide instructions for programming the radios.”
DHS rejected a recommendation from the IG's office to grant more authority to the department coordinating use of the radios, claiming its current efforts were sufficient.