Homeland Security: Challenges in Achieving Interoperable	 
Communications for First Responders (06-NOV-03, GAO-04-231T).	 
                                                                 
The inability of first responders--police officers, firemen,	 
hazardous materials teams, emergency medical service personnel,  
and others--to communicate effectively with one another as needed
during an emergency is a long-standing and widely recognized	 
problem in many areas across the country. When first responders  
cannot communicate effectively as needed, it can literally cost  
lives--of both emergency responders and those they are trying to 
assist. At the request of the Chairman of the House Committee on 
Government Reform, we are examining the barriers to improved	 
interoperability and the roles that federal, state, and local	 
governments can play in improving wireless interoperability	 
communications. 						 
-------------------------Indexing Terms------------------------- 
REPORTNUM:   GAO-04-231T					        
    ACCNO:   A08831						        
  TITLE:     Homeland Security: Challenges in Achieving Interoperable 
Communications for First Responders				 
     DATE:   11/06/2003 
  SUBJECT:   Communication					 
	     Emergency medical services 			 
	     Emergency preparedness				 
	     Fire fighters					 
	     Intergovernmental relations			 
	     Police						 
	     Safety						 
	     Standards and standardization			 
	     First responders					 
	     Interoperability					 
	     DHS Wireless Public Safety Interoperable		 
	     Communications Program				 
                                                                 

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GAO-04-231T

                    United States General Accounting Office

GAO Testimony

Before the Subcommittees of the Government Reform Committee, House of
Representatives

For Release on Delivery Expected at 10:00 a.m. EST

Thursday, November 6, 2003 HOMELAND SECURITY

Challenges in Achieving Interoperable Communications for First Responders

Statement of William O. Jenkins, Jr.
Director, Homeland Security and Justice Issues

GAO-04-231T

Highlights of GAO-04-231T, a report to Congressional Requesters,
Subcommittees of House Government Reform Committee

The inability of first responders- police officers, firemen, hazardous
materials teams, emergency medical service personnel, and others-to
communicate effectively with one another as needed during an emergency is
a long-standing and widely recognized problem in many areas across the
country. When first responders cannot communicate effectively as needed,
it can literally cost lives-of both emergency responders and those they
are trying to assist. At the request of the Chairman of the full
committee, we are examining the barriers to improved interoperability and
the roles that federal, state, and local governments can play in improving
wireless interoperability communications.

Because our work is ongoing, we are not yet making recommendations.
However based on our work to date, we identify several major challenges
federal, state, and local governments must address. Effectively addressing
these challenges requires collaboration of all first responders and all
levels of government. Failure to do so risks spending funds ineffectively
and creating new problems in our attempt to resolve existing ones.

November 6, 2003

HOMELAND SECURITY

Challenges in Achieving Interoperable Communications for First Responders

Interoperability problems existed among public safety agencies for many
years prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Reports on
incidents have documented a number of problems in public safety wireless
communications. For over 15 years the Federal Government has been
concerned about public safety spectrum issues, including communications
interoperability issues. A variety of federal agencies have been involved
in defining the problem and identifying potential solutions. In addition,
Congress has taken several actions over the past two decades to address
the availability and use of public safety wireless spectrum. The events of
September 11 have resulted in greater public and governmental focus on the
role of first responders and their capacity to respond to emergencies,
including those resulting from terrorist incidents.

The interoperability issues that the nation faces today did not arise
overnight and they will not be successfully addressed overnight. Federal,
state, and local governments face several major challenges in addressing
interoperability in their wireless communications.

o  	The first challenge is to clearly identify and define the problem. For
example, it is important to recognize that interoperable communications is
not an end in itself, but it is rather one component for achieving an
important goal--the ability to respond effectively to and mitigate
incidents that require the coordinated actions of first responders.

o  	The second challenge is whether and how to establish national
interoperability performance goals and standards and balance them with the
flexibility needed to address differences in state, regional and local
needs and conditions.

o  	The third challenge is defining the roles of federal, state, and local
governments and other entities in defining the problem, implementing any
national goals and standards, and assessing alternative means of achieving
those goals and standards.

The fundamental barrier to successfully addressing these challenges has
been the lack of effective, collaborative, interdisciplinary and
intergovernmental planning. No one first responder group or governmental
agency can successfully "fix" the interoperability problems that face our
nation. It will require the partnership, leadership, and coordinated
planning of everyone involved.

www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-04-231T.

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on
the link above. For more information, contact William Jenkins, Jr. at
(202) 512-8757 or [email protected]

Messrs. Chairmen and Members of the Subcommittees:

I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to discuss the critical
issue of wireless interoperable communications for first responders. The
inability of first responders-police officers, fire fighters, emergency
medical service personnel, public health officials, and others-to
communicate effectively with one another as needed during an emergency is
a long-standing and widely recognized problem in many areas across the
country. Reports have shown that when first responders cannot communicate
effectively as needed, it can literally cost lives-of both emergency
responders and those they are trying to assist. Thus, effective
interoperable communications between and among wireless communications
systems used by federal, state, and local public safety agencies is
generally accepted as not only desirable but essential for the protection
of life and property. The effective interoperability of these wireless
systems permits a rapid and coordinated response to an emergency incident,
whether that incident is a "routine" spill from an overturned tanker truck
or railcar, a natural disaster, or a terrorist attack.

At the request of the Chairman of the full committee, we are examining the
barriers to improved interoperability and the roles that federal, state,
and local governments can play in improving wireless interoperability
communications.1 Our work is ongoing. To date, we have contacted state and
local officials in several states, attended professional meetings, and
opened discussion with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other
key federal agencies. We are conducting our work in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards. My testimony today
focuses on the broad and complex nature of the interoperability issue and
the challenges the nation faces in addressing this issue.

Background 	Interoperability problems existed among public safety agencies
for many years prior to the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon and New
York City. Reports on incidents have documented a number of problems in
public safety wireless communications. For example, the National Task
Force on Interoperability (NTFI) documented interoperability problems in

1Our work addresses public safety wireless communications interoperability
issues. Thus, we do not address interoperability problems found in other
homeland security functions, such as fire equipment, chem-bio equipment,
and information technology.

several states - including South Dakota, Indiana, and Minnesota--that had
developed over a number of years.2

For over 15 years the federal government has been concerned about public
safety spectrum issues, including communications interoperability issues.
A variety of federal agencies have been involved in defining the problem
and identifying potential solutions. In addition, Congress has taken
several actions over the past two decades to address the availability and
use of the public safety wireless spectrum.

The events of September 11, 2001, have resulted in greater public and
governmental focus on the role of first responders and their capacity to
respond to emergencies, including those resulting from terrorist
incidents. One result has been significantly increased federal funding for
state and local first responders, including funding to improve
interoperable communications among federal, state, and local first
responders. In fiscal year 2003 , Congress appropriated at least $154
million for interoperability through a variety of grants administered by
the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and other
agencies.

In addition to appropriating more funds, the executive branch and Congress
have attempted to consolidate federal efforts and coordinate federal grant
programs. Within the executive branch, the Office of Management and Budget
in 2001 created the Wireless Public SAFEty Interoperable COMmunications
Program, or SAFECOM, 3 to unify the federal government's efforts to help
coordinate the work at the federal, state, local and tribal levels, in
order to provide reliable public safety communications and achieve
national wireless communications interoperability.4

2National Task Force on Interoperability, WHY CAN'T WE TALK? Working
Together To Bridge the Communications Gap To Save Lives, February, 2003.

3SAFECOM is one of the President's 24 E-GOV initiatives.

4The description of SAFECOM's mission is taken from the Administrator for
E-government and IT, the Office of Management and Budget letter to the
attendees of the SAFECOM, National Institute of Standards and Technology
and National Institute of Justice Summit on Interoperable Communications
For Public Safety.

  Summary

The First Challenge: Identifying and Defining the Interoperability Problem

The interoperability issues that the nation faces today did not arise
overnight and they will not be successfully addressed overnight. Federal,
state, and local governments face several major challenges in addressing
interoperability in their wireless communications. The first challenge is
to clearly identify and define the problem, recognizing that interoperable
communications is but a means to an end-the ability to respond effectively
to any incident that requires the coordinated actions of first responders.
The second is whether and how to establish national interoperability
performance goals and standards and to balance them with the flexibility
needed to address differences in state, regional, and local needs and
conditions. The third challenge is defining the roles of federal, state,
and local governments and other entities in identifying the communication
problem, implementing any national performance goals and standards, and
assessing alternative means of achieving those goals and standards. The
fundamental barrier to successfully addressing these challenges has been
the lack of effective, collaborative, interdisciplinary and
intergovernmental planning. No one first responder group or governmental
agency can successfully "fix" the interoperability problems that face our
nation. It will require the partnership, leadership, and coordinated
planning of everyone involved .

In discussing the issue of interoperable communications, it is important
to recognize that interoperable communications is not merely a
technological issue or an end in itself. It is rather a key means of
achieving a desirable objective-the effective response to and mitigation
of events or incidents that require the coordinated actions of emergency
responders. These events could encompass a wide range of possibilities,
such as multi-vehicle accidents, major floods or wildfires, or a terrorist
attack that involved thousands of injuries.

Interoperable communications is also but one component, although an
important one, of an effective incident command planning and operations
structure. As a standard practice, public safety agencies are to establish
communications capabilities to support command and control of their
operations at an incident scene. Determining the most appropriate means of
achieving interoperable communications must flow from an effective
planning and operations structure that identifies who is in charge and who
must be able to communicate what information to whom under what
circumstances. For example, there are likely to be both similarities and
differences in the interoperable communications capacities, protocols, and
participants associated with responding to seasonally predictable
wildfires and terrorist attacks that involve biological agents.

Defining the range of interoperability capacity needed requires
identifying the types of events for which interoperable communications
would be needed, the participants involved in responding to those
events-by professional discipline and jurisdiction-and an operational
definition of who is charge and who would need to communicate what types
of information (e.g., voice, data, or both) with whom under what
circumstances. These are not easy tasks, and they require both a
multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional perspective. But these tasks
are a precursor to assessing the current problems-e.g., operational,
technical, and fiscal-that exist in meeting interoperable communication
needs and alternative means of achieving identified interoperable
communications needs.

But more importantly, interoperability is not a static issue--it is an
issue that is affected by changes in technology and the changing events
and threats for which first responders must be prepared. Thus, there is no
single, long-term solution; the issue is one that must be periodically
reassessed as needs and technology change.

Interoperability Is Not a Static Issue

The Evolving Definition of First Responders

The issues and problems in defining and scoping what is meant by
"interoperability" are not static. They evolve over time in a fluid and
ever-changing environment of evolving threats and events for which we need
to be prepared to respond, new operational requirements, new spectrum
bands for public safety use, and new technology.

Public safety officials generally recognize that interoperable
communications is the ability to talk with whom they want, when they want,
when authorized, but not the ability to talk with everyone all of the
time. However, there is no standard definition of communications
interoperability. Nor is there a "one size fits all" requirement for who
needs to talk to whom.

Traditionally, first responders have been considered to be fire, police
and emergency medical service personnel. However, in a description of
public safety challenges, a federal official noted that the attacks of
September 11, 2001, have blurred the lines between public safety and
national security. According to the Commission, effective preparedness for
combating terrorism at the local level requires a network that includes
public health departments, hospitals and other medical providers, and
offices of

Reexamining the Jurisdictional Boundaries of Interoperability

Interoperable Needs Are Scenario Driven and Change Over Time

emergency management, in addition to the traditional police, fire, and
emergency medical services first responders.5 Furthermore, Congress
recognized the expanded definition of first responder in the Homeland
Security Act of 2002, which defined "emergency response providers" as
"Federal, State, and local emergency public safety, law enforcement,
emergency response, emergency medical (including hospital emergency
facilities), and related personnel, agencies, and authorities."6

The context of the communications also affects the definition of the
problem. Two key studies in the late 1990s sponsored by the Department of
Justice (DOJ) and the Public Safety Wireless Network (PSWN)7 program
provide a nationwide picture of wireless interoperability issues among
federal, state, and local police, fire, and emergency medical service
agencies at that time.8 Both studies describe most local public safety
agencies as interacting with other local agencies on a daily or weekly
basis. As a result, most local agencies had more confidence in
establishing radio links with one another than with state agencies, with
whom they less frequently interact. Local public safety agencies interact
with federal agencies least of all, with a smaller percentage of local
agencies expressing confidence in their ability to establish radio links
with federal agencies. The events of September 11, 2001, have resulted in
a reexamination of the circumstances in which interoperable communications
should extend across political jurisdictions and levels of government.

Another issue is the broad range of scenarios in which interoperable
communications are required. Public safety officials have pointed out that
interoperability is situation specific, based on whether communications
are needed for (1) "mutual-aid responses" or routine day-to-day

5Third Annual Report to the President and the Congress of the Advisory
Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving
Weapons of Mass Destruction, December 15, 2001.

6Homeland Security Act, P.L. 107-296, section 2 (6).

7The Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury formed the
Public Safety Wireless Network Program (PSWN) to promote effective public
safety communications and to foster interoperability among local, state,
federal, and tribal communications systems. PSWN was incorporated into the
new Department of Homeland Security as part of the SAFECOM project in
2003.

8The DOJ study concentrated on wireless interoperability issues within the
state and local law enforcement community, while the PSWN study assessed
communications interoperability issues within the fire and emergency
medical services communities.

coordination between two local agencies; (2) extended task force
operations involving members of different agencies coming together to work
on a common problem; or (3) a major event that requires response from a
variety of local, state, and federal agencies. One official breaks the
major event category into three separate types of events:

o  	planned events, such as the Olympics, for which plans can be made in
advance;

o  	recurring events, such as major wildfires and hurricanes, that can be
expected every year and for which contingency plans can be prepared based
on past experience, and

o  unplanned events, such as the September 11th attacks, that can rapidly

Technological Changes Also Affect Interoperability

overwhelm the ability of local forces to handle the problem.

As technology changes, it presents new problems and opportunities for
achieving and maintaining effective interoperable communications.
According to one official, in the 1980s, a method of voice transmission
called "trunking" became available that allowed more efficient use of
spectrum. However, three different and incompatible trunking technologies
developed, and these systems are not interoperable. This official noted
that as mobile data communications becomes more prevalent and new digital
technologies are introduced, standards become more important.

Technical standards for interoperable communications are still under
development. Beginning in 1989, a partnership between industry and the
public safety user community developed what is known as Project 25 (P-

25) standards. According to the PSWN program office, Project 25 standards
remain the only user-defined set of standards in the United States for
public safety communications. The Department of Homeland Security has
recently decided to purchase radios that incorporate the P-25 standards
for the each of the nation's 28 urban search and rescue teams. PSWN
believes P-25 is an important step toward achieving interoperability, but
the standards do not mandate interoperability among all manufacturers'
systems. Standards development continues today as new technologies emerge
that meet changing user needs and new policy requirements.

In addition, new public safety mission requirements for video, imaging,
and high speed data transfers, new and highly complex digital

communications systems, and the use of commercial wireless systems, are
potential sources of new interoperability problems.

Availability of new spectrum can also result in new technologies and
require further development of technical standards. For example, the FCC
recently designated a new band of spectrum, the 4.9 Gigahertz (GHz) band,
for public safety uses and sought comments on various issues, including
licensing and service rules. The FCC provided this additional spectrum to
public safety users to support new broadband applications, such as
high-speed digital technologies and wireless local area networks for
incident scene management. The Federal Communications (FCC) in particular
requested comments on the implementation of technical standards for fixed
and mobile operations on the band. The National Public Safety
Telecommunications Council9 has established a task force that includes
work on interoperability standards for the 4.9 GHz band.

When the interoperability problem has been sufficiently defined and
bounded, the next challenge will be to develop national interoperability
performance goals and technical standards that balance consistency with
the need for flexibility in adapting them to state and regional needs and
circumstances.

  Second Challenge: Establishing National Goals and Requirements

Lack of National Requirements

One key barrier to development of a national interoperability strategy is
the lack of a statement of national mission requirements for public
safety-what set of communications capabilities should be built or
acquired-and a strategy to get there. The report of the Independent Task
Force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations on emergency
responders said national standards of preparedness have not been defined
and that the lack of a methodology to determine national requirements for
emergency preparedness constitutes a national crisis.10 The report

9Formed May 1, 1977, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council
is a federation representing public safety telecommunications. The purpose
of NPSTC is to follow up on the recommendations of the Public Safety
Wireless Advisory Committee (PSWAC). In addition, NPSTC acts as a resource
and advocate for public safety telecommunications issues.

10Independent Task Force Sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations;
Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared.

recommended these standards be prepared for federal, state, and local
emergency responders in such areas as training, interoperable
communications systems, and response equipment. SAFECOM officials have
noted that no standard, guidance, or national strategy exists on
interoperability. DOJ officials told us they are working with SAFECOM to
develop a statement of requirements that should be ready for release by
May 1, 2004.

Need for an Interoperability Blueprint

To guide the creation of interoperable communications, there must be an
explicit and commonly understood and agreed-to blueprint, or architecture,
for effectively and efficiently guiding modernization efforts. For a
decade, GAO has promoted the use of architectures, recognizing them as a
crucial means to a challenging goal: agency operational structures that
are optimally defined in both business and technological environments. An
enterprise architecture provides a clear and comprehensive picture of an
entity, whether it is an organization (e.g., a federal department or
agency) or a functional or mission area that cuts across more than one
organization (e.g., financial management). In August 2003, DHS released
its initial enterprise architecture that it described as conceptual in
nature.. We are in the process of reviewing this architecture at the
request of the Chairman, Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy,
Intergovernmental Relations and the Census, Committee on Government
Reform.

                              Need For Flexibility

There is no single "silver bullet" solution to interoperability needs. Our
ongoing work indicates that communications interoperability problems
facing any given locality or state tend to be situation specific, with no
universally applicable solution. For example, the Association of Public
Safety Communications Officials (APCO) noted in its White Paper on
Homeland Security that various methods are possible to achieve
interoperability but planning is an essential first step to choosing a
solution. APCO noted that interoperability does not involve a single
product or system approach; rather it is accomplished with a variety of
solutions with a focus on the first responder. APCO noted that what is an
appropriate interoperability solution varies with the operation of the

particular government agencies, their funding, their physical location,
and other individual circumstances.11

In addition, the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee's (PSWAC) final
report noted that the public safety community has some common operational
requirements, such as dispatch communications and transmission of
operational and tactical instructions. However, the PSWAC report also
describes agencies' specialized requirements that are based on specific
missions and operating environments. For example, the report notes
forestry and state police have long distance requirements where foliage
can be a problem for higher frequency systems. In contrast, a metropolitan
police department may need highly reliable in-building coverage, which is
not a requirement for state police mobile operations. Those state and
local officials we have interviewed to date have stated that they want to
retain flexibility when addressing communications issues. For example,
Virginia state officials noted that geographical locations within the
state present different interoperability requirements. They said
interoperability problems differ from locality to locality, and that
solutions must be developed that fit the specific circumstances of the
individual geography and situation.

As noted above, the federal government has a long history in addressing
federal, state, and local government public safety issues-in particular
interoperability issues. The Government Reform Committee has also recently
contributed to the development of policies. In October 2002 the Committee
issued a report entitled "How Can the Federal Government Better Assist
State and Local Governments in Preparing for a Biological, Chemical, or
Nuclear Attack "(Report 107-766). The Committee's first finding was that
incompatible communication systems impede intergovernmental coordination
efforts. The Committee recommended that the federal government take a
leadership role in resolving the communications interoperability problem.

The federal role in addressing the interoperability of public safety
wireless communications continues to evolve. Today, a combination of many
federal agencies, programs, and associations are involved in coordinating

  Third Challenge: Need to Define Intergovernmental Roles

Federal Efforts to Establish A Leadership Role

11The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, The APCO
International Homeland Security White Paper, August 2002.

emergency communications. In June 2003, SAFECOM partnered with the
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National
Institute of Justice (NIJ) to hold a summit that brought together over 60
entities involved with communications interoperability policy setting or
programs. According to NIST, the summit familiarized key interoperability
players with work being done by others and provided insight into where
additional federal resources may be needed.

The SAFECOM program was initially established within Justice in 2001 and
was transferred to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2002
before being brought into DHS in early 2003. The current director said his
program is responsible for outreach to local, state, and federal public
safety agencies to assist in interoperability planning and implementation.
In an August 2003 briefing, SAFECOM stated its role is to serve "as the
umbrella program within the federal government to coordinate the efforts
of local, tribal, state and federal public safety agencies working to
improve public safety response through more effective, efficient,
interoperable wireless communications." In the briefing, SAFECOM officials
said they have begun to implement this coordination role by setting
objectives to develop a national public safety communications strategy,
providing supporting standards and guidance; developing funding mechanisms
and guidance, and creating a national training and technical assistance
program.

SAFECOM officials have also stated that SAFECOM has taken several other
actions to implement its role as the umbrella program to coordinate
actions of the federal government. For example, in coordination with
officials of other agencies, it developed guidance for federal grants
supporting public safety communications and interoperability. The guidance
is designed to provide an outline of who is eligible for the grants,
purposes for which grant funds can be used and eligibility specifications
for applicants. The guidance requires that, at a minimum, applicants must"
define the objectives of what the applicant is ultimately trying to
accomplish and how the proposed project would fit into an overall effort
to increase interoperability, as well as identify potential partnerships
for agreements." Additionally, the guidance recommends, but does not
require, that applicants establish a governance group consisting of local,
tribal, state, and federal entities from relevant public safety
disciplines and purchase interoperable equipment that is compliant with
phase one of Project-25 standards.

Although SAFECOM is the umbrella program to coordinate actions of the
federal government, it does not include all major federal efforts aimed at

promoting wireless interoperability for first responders. Specifically,
the Justice Department continues to play a major role in interoperability
after the establishment of DHS. Key Justice programs-the Advanced
Generation of Interoperability for Law Enforcement (AGILE) and the
Community Oriented Policing Services-did not transition to the SAFECOM
program in the new Department of Homeland Security. AGILE is the
Department of Justice program to assist state and local law enforcement
agencies to effectively and efficiently communicate with one another
across agency and jurisdictional boundaries. It is dedicated to studying
interoperability options and advising state and local law enforcement,
fire fighters, and emergency technicians. The SAFECOM program director
also said most of the federal research and development on prototypes is
being conducted within the AGILE program. The Department of Justice said
it is also creating a database for all federal grants to provide a single
source of information for states and localities to access, and to allow
federal agencies to coordinate federal funding awards to state and local
agencies. SAFECOM and AGILE officials told us they have an informal, but
close working relationship today, and that they are negotiating a
memorandum of understanding between the two programs. Federal officials
also told us that efforts are also under way by SAFECOM, AGILE, and other
federal agencies to coordinate work on technical assistance to state and
local governments and to develop and set interoperability standards. The
SAFECOM program may continue to face challenges in assuming a leadership
role for the federal government while these significant Justice programs
remain outside its domain.

SAFECOM officials will face complex issues when they address public safety
spectrum management and coordination. The National Governors' Guide to
Emergency Management noted that extensive coordination will be required
between the FCC and the National Telecomunications and Information Agency
(NTIA) to provide adequate spectrum and to enhance shared local, state,
and federal communications. However, the current legal framework for
domestic spectrum management is divided between the NTIA within the
Department of Commerce, which regulates federal government spectrum use,
and the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates state, local,
and other nonfederal spectrum use. In a September 2002 report on spectrum
management and coordination, GAO found that FCC's and NTIA's efforts to
manage their respective areas of responsibility were not guided by a
national spectrum strategy.12 The FCC

12TELECOMMUNICATIONS; Better Coordination and Enhanced Accountability
Needed to Improve Spectrum Management, GAO-02-906, September, 2002

State Role in Interoperability Issues Is Evolving

and the NTIA have conducted independent spectrum planning efforts and have
recently taken steps to improve coordination, but they have not yet
implemented long-standing congressional directives to conduct joint,
national spectrum planning. We recommended that the FCC and the NTIA
develop a strategy for establishing a clearly defined national spectrum
plan and submit a report to the appropriate congressional committees. In a
January 2003 report, we discussed several barriers to reforming spectrum
management in the United States.13

The role that state and local governments will play in public safety
communications is evolving. This role is being defined by states and local
governments as they address problems they recognize exist in their
communications systems and by the FCC and the NTIA. As noted by the
National Governors Association (NGA), many states are establishing a
foundation for cooperation and statewide planning through memorandums of
understanding or similar agreements.

Several states have or are taking executive and legislative actions to
address communications planning and interoperability planning. For
example, the Missouri State Interoperability Executive Committee was
created by the Missouri Department of Public Safety to enhance
communications interoperability among public safety entities in Missouri
by promoting available tools and relationships. The Missouri State
Interoperability Executive Committee established a Memorandum of
Understanding (MOU) that instructs public safety agencies within the state
to use the FCC designated interoperability channels under an Incident
Command/Incident Management structure. The MOU also attempts to diminish
operational interoperability barriers by creating common operating
procedures for the agencies to use on the channels. Furthermore, in order
to create a comprehensive approach to interoperability that addresses new
homeland security concerns, the State of Missouri enacted the "Missouri
Uniform Communications Act for Homeland Security", which established the
State's "Public Safety Communications Committee." This Committee is
composed of representatives from the Department of Public Safety, Office
of Homeland Security, Department of Conservation and Department of
Transportation. The committee reviews all public safety agencies' plans
that request state or federal wireless communications funds and relies on
the

13TELECOMMUNICATIONS; Comprehensive Review of U.S. Spectrum Management
With Broad Stakeholder Involvement Is Needed,GAO-03-277, January, 2003

recommendations of the Missouri Interoperability Executive Committee to
ensure that state decisions enhance interoperability.

Another state that uses the State Interoperability Executive Committee
structure to enhance communications interoperability is the State of
Washington, whose committee was established by state legislation effective
July 1, 2003. The Washington Committee was created under the Information
Services Board within the Department of Information Services. The
Committee's members include representatives from the Military,
Transportation, Information Services and Natural Resources departments;
the Washington State Patrol; state and local fire chiefs; police chiefs;
sheriffs; and state and local emergency managers. Washington legislation
requires the Committee to submit to the State legislature an inventory of
all public safety systems within the state and a plan to ensure the
interoperability of those systems. The Committee was given the authority
to develop policies and procedures for emergency communications systems
across the state and to serve as the point of contact for the FCC in the
allocation, use and licensing of radio spectrum for public safety and
emergency communication systems.

Federal actions to support state efforts that address wireless
interoperability issues are still evolving. On the one hand, the Public
Safety Wireless Network program has supported state efforts to improve
multistate and individual statewide planning and coordination through a
number of projects that emphasize a regional approach. However, two
agencies of the federal government-the FCC and the NTIA-set rules and
regulations for state and local governments and federal government
wireless systems respectively.

The Regional or Shared Approach

State and local efforts to address interoperability issues are widespread.
The National Governors Association said in its recent Guide to Emergency
Management that interoperable equipment, procedures, and standards for
emergency responders are key to improving the effectiveness of mutual aid
agreements with other states and other jurisdictions. The NGA guide calls
for governors and their state homeland security directors to:

o  develop a statewide vision for interoperable communications;

o  ensure adequate wireless spectrum is available to accommodate all
users;

o  invest in new communications infrastructure;

o  	develop standards for technology and equipment, and partner with
government and private industry.

Specifically, states are taking action to facilitate strategic planning
and interoperability planning that emphasize a shared approach at the
multistate, state, and local levels. The Public Safety Wireless Network
report notes that although in the past public safety agencies have
addressed interoperability on an individual basis, more recently, local,
state, and federal agencies have come to realize that they cannot do it
alone. The report also notes that officials at all levels of government
are now taking action to improve coordination and facilitate
multi-jurisdictional interoperability. We talked to officials from several
states about their states' efforts to address interoperability issues on a
regional basis. For example;

o  	State officials from Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan
have combined efforts to form a Mid-west Consortium to promote interstate
interoperability. They have taken actions to form an interstate committee
to develop interoperability plans and solicit support from key players
such as local public safety agencies. The governors of the states have
agreed to sign an MOU to signify that each state is willing to be
interoperable with the other states and will provide communication
assistance and resources to the other states, to the extent that it does
not harm their own state.

o  	In Florida, the governor of the state issued an executive order in
2001 to establish seven Regional Domestic Security Task Forces that make
up the entire state. Each of the regional task forces has a committee on
interoperable communications under Florida's Executive Interoperable
Technologies Committee. The Florida legislature supported that effort by
establishing the Task Forces in law and formally designating the Florida
Department of Law Enforcement and the Division of Emergency Management as
the lead agencies. The Task Forces consist of agencies from Fire/Rescue,
Emergency Management, and public health and hospitals, as well as law
enforcement. In addition, it includes partnerships with education/schools,
business and private industry.

Statewide Interoperability Public safety representatives have stressed the
importance of planning in

Plans 	addressing communications interoperability issues. The Association
of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) has emphasized the
importance of planning in addressing communications interoperability
problems. In its Homeland Security white paper, APCO said that a plan for
responding to terrorist events should include a section on how to address
interoperability requirements. The creation of state interoperability
plans

could help reduce the current fragmented public safety communications
planning process. Public safety agencies have historically planned and
acquired communications systems for their own jurisdictions without
concern for interoperability. This meant that each local and state agency
developed communications systems to meet their own requirements, without
regard to interoperability requirements to talk to adjacent jurisdictions.
For example, a PSWN anlaysis of Fire and EMS communications
interoperability found a significant need for coordinated approaches,
relationship building, and information sharing. However, the PSWN program
office found that public safety agencies have traditionally developed or
updated their radio systems independently to meet specific mission needs.
Each agency developed a sense of "ownership", leading to "turf issues" and
resistance to change.

The SAFECOM program has reached similar conclusions. According to SAFECOM,
the priorities of local and state public safety communications systems are
first, to provide reliable agency specific communications; second, to
provide local interagency communications; and third, to provide reliable
interagency local/state/federal communications. In a August 11, 2003,
briefing document, SAFECOM noted that limited and fragmented planning and
cooperation was one barrier to public safety wireless communications.
SAFECOM noted a complex environment of over 2.5 million public safety
first responders within more than 44,000 agencies and the fragmented
command structure-where each Chief of Police sees himself as the Chairman
of the Joint Staff in his jurisdiction- but the Fire Chief disagrees. The
briefing also noted that a multitude of federal programs provide funding
for interoperable communications with no coordination of requirements or
guidance and that local funding was also stove-piped to meet individual
agency needs. In a recent statement, we identified 10 separate grant
programs that could be used for first responder equipment, including a
number of these that can be used for interoperable communications
equipment. We stated that the fragmented delivery of federal assistance
can complicate coordination and integration of services and planning at
state and local levels.14

14Homeland Security: Reforming Federal Grants to Better Meet Outstanding
Needs, GAO-03-1146T, September 3, 2003

  The Fundamental Barrier to Success: The Absence of Effective Coordinated
  Planning and Collaboration

The barriers to successfully addressing the three challenges we have
outlined are multifaceted. Among the organizations we have contacted or
whose reports we have reviewed, we found a variety of identified barriers,
with a number of common barriers. For example, the SAFECOM project and a
task force of 18 national associations representing state and local
elected and appointed officials and public safety officials15 identified
similar barriers: (1) incompatible and aging communications equipment, (2)
limited and fragmented funding, (3) limited and fragmented planning and
cooperation, (4) limited and fragmented radio spectrum, and (5) limited
equipment standards.

Of all these barriers, perhaps the most fundamental has been limited and
fragmented planning and cooperation. The regional chairs of the Florida
State Interoperability Committee have noted that non-technical barriers
are the most important and difficult to solve. Police and fire departments
often have different concepts and doctrines on how to operate an incident
command post and use interoperable communications. Similarly, first
responders, such as police and fire departments, may use different
terminology to describe the same thing. Differences in terminology and
operating procedures can lead to communications problems even where the
participating public safety agencies share common communications equipment
and spectrum.

No one first responder group, jurisdiction, or level of government can
successfully address the challenges posed by the current state of
interoperable communications. Effectively addressing these challenges
requires the partnership, leadership, and collaboration of all first
responder disciplines, jurisdictions, and levels of government-local,
state, federal, and tribal. In the absence of that partnership and
collaboration, we risk spending funds ineffectively and creating new
problems in our attempt to resolve existing ones.

15National Task Force on Interoperability, WHY CAN'T WE TALK? Working
Together To Bridge the Communications Gap To Save Lives, February, 2003.

That concludes my statement, Mr. Chairmen, and I would be pleased to
answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittees may have.

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