THE HONORABLE KAREN EVANS
ADMINISTRATOR FOR ELECTRONIC GOVERNMENT AND
OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET
COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT REFORM
SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL SECURITY, EMERGING THREATS, AND INTERNATIONAL
SUBCOMMITTEE ON TECHNOLOGY, INFORMATION POLICY, INTERGOVERNMENTAL RELATIONS,
AND THE CENSUS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Good morning, Chairman Shays and Chairman Putnam, Ranking Member Kucinich,
Ranking Member Clay, and Members of the Committees. Thank you for inviting
me to speak about the communication challenges facing the first responder
community. My remarks will focus on the Administrations strategy
and progress to date in working with state, local, and tribal governments
and organizations to address these challenges. Additionally, I will discuss
our expected next steps and goals to successfully resolve with the community,
this interoperability issue. Successful achievement of interoperable communications
for all first responders throughout our country continues to be a priority
for the Administration.
As you know, OMB, working with Federal agencies, identified in the fall
of 2001, 24 government-wide opportunities to simplify and consolidate redundant
Federal programs, preventing unnecessary waste of taxpayer dollars. One
of those opportunities was in the area of wireless communications, and became
the Project SAFECOM electronic government (e-gov) initiative. Additionally,
the Presidents Management Council (consisting of Department Deputy
Secretaries) identified SAFECOM as one of three initiatives out of the 24
as a top priority.
The goal of SAFECOM is to provide interoperable wireless solutions for Federal,
state, and local public safety organizations and ensure they can communicate
and share information in response to emergency incidents. SAFECOM is the
umbrella program for all Federal interoperability efforts and will work
with State and local interoperability initiatives. SAFECOM will oversee
several functions including coordination of all Federal interoperability
efforts, development of a strategy including a short and long term vision
and milestones to enhance first responder interoperability, and ensuring
continued progress on SAFECOM-related initiatives. SAFECOM is working to
ensure that Federal programs will encourage planning for and implementation
of systems and agreements at all levels that leverage existing capabilities
and focus interim procurement and fielding actions to enhance interoperable
As a result, the SAFECOM e-gov initiative is at the center of the Administrations
strategy to address interoperability challenges. The Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) is the managing partner with six additional agencies as partner
agencies. The partner agencies include the Departments of Defense, Energy,
Interior, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture. All of these
agencies have significant roles to play in public safety communications,
emergency/incident response and management, and law enforcement.
Specifically, SAFECOMs achievements and next steps
Develop common grant guidance. The program has developed
common guidance and plans to fully integrate it across the Federal government.
Sponsor the development of standards. These standards
will support a rational migration to national interoperability. This
work is currently ongoing in partnership with the National Institute
of Standards and Technology.
Create an interoperable information clearinghouse.
In addition to a programmatic web site, SAFECOM will create a clearinghouse
for information related to interoperability. Estimated development is
Challenges to Achieving Effective First Responder
It is abundantly clear that in order for first responders and other public
safety officials to effectively prevent, respond, and recover from disasters,
whether natural or terrorist initiated, they must be able to depend on interoperable
communications. Unfortunately, until recently, each Federal agency had their
own policies, standards, and equipment for the individual programs they
administered. This problem was compounded at the state and local level as
each group (police, firefighters, etc.) each used their own equipment, standards,
and procedures. Additional challenges identified include:
Limited and fragmented radio spectrum The spectrum allocated
to the public safety community has been given out gradually over the
last 75 years based on availability and requirements at particular times.
As a result, public safetys spectrum is scattered across the
multiple frequencies. Public safety has had to compete with commercial
and other users of spectrum for a scarce resource, and increasing interference
has been caused by heavy spectrum usage.
Limited and fragmented planning and cooperation There are over
2.5 million public safety first responders in some 45,000 agencies.
Many of these agencies are small, often volunteer organizations with
limited budgets, no engineering expertise, and a distrust of Federal
mandates. These agencies usually plan based on only their own local,
Federal government has also contributed to fragmented planning and funding
in the past. Efforts to achieve interoperability have previously not
been coordinated, funding and grants have been distributed without common
guidance and Federal public safety agencies have not achieved interoperability
Working in partnership with state, local, and tribal governments,
SAFECOM will help to overcome some of these challenges. The initiatives
goal to coordinate and simplify the Federal role in achieving interoperability
is a critical part of our nations ability to address this problem.
Limited and fragmented funding There is insufficient funding
in place to solve the nations interoperability problem. Cost
estimates are commonly estimated at over $15B and do not always include
the costs of retraining, new infrastructure, or essential maintenance
of new systems.
Additionally, a multitude
of programs on the Federal level provide funding for interoperable communications
with no coordination of system requirements. In addition, State and
local agencies have different acquisition requirements, planning cycles
and technical requirements. In effect, each agency may be in a different
stage of technology replacement.
Coordination Across the Federal Government
As stated, SAFECOMs mission is to serve as the umbrella program within
the Federal government to help local, tribal, State and Federal public safety
agencies improve public safety response through more effective and efficient
interoperable wireless communications. In addition to these groups and Federal
agencies, SAFECOM is also working in partnership with other Federal offices
with a role in this area.
SAFECOM and Department of Justices Advanced Generation of Interoperability
for Law Enforcement (AGILE) program are working together on a daily basis
to make sure that tasks are coordinated and resources are used as effectively
as possible. SAFECOM and AGILE will also be holding a joint planning session
in early December to further coordinate their activities. Another agency,
the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) obviously has a critical role
in solving the issue of limited and fragmented spectrum, one of the key
issues preventing interoperability.
The Administration will continue to work collaboratively across Federal
agencies, with Congress, and State and local governments, to overcome the
interoperability challenges facing first responders. To date, we have achieved
some critical milestones along that path such as the coordination of grant
funding across agencies.
While great strides have been made toward improving interoperability for
our nations first responders, this is not a problem that can be solved
overnight or even in a year or two. Particularly, as over 90 percent
of the nations public safety infrastructure is owned at the local
and State level.
Collaborating with the public safety community, we need to continue to work
toward developing a common set of requirements and standards for public
safety communications. We also need a better understanding of existing solutions
and where the gaps exist between the functionality those systems provide
and what is needed for interoperability. All of these issues are currently
being addressed by SAFECOM and their partners.
I look forward to working with the Committees on our shared goals to achieve
interoperability and overcome other challenges on the path toward realizing
effective and efficient first responder communications.