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Audit: Crossed wires threaten DHS radio modernization

Sep. 11, 2013 - 11:11AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
U.S. Customs And Border Protection Secures Tex-Mex
A U.S. Border Patrol agent Jesus Juarez searches for drug smugglers along the Rio Grande River in Mission, Texas. (John Moore / Getty Images)

Sloppy storage practices and other problems are putting public money at risk as the Department of Homeland Security embarks on a costly upgrade of its radio systems, auditors have concluded in a report set for release Wednesday.

The department lacks both reliable inventory data and a governance structure to guide decision-making, the department’s inspector general said in the report. “As a result, DHS risks wasting taxpayer funds on equipment purchases and radio system investments that are not needed, sustainable, supportable or affordable.”

As some Customs and Border Protection offices faced “critical equipment shortages,” for example, CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement had some $28 million in radio items languishing in warehouses for a year or more, the audit found. In early 2011, the Border Patrol, a part of CBP, was short almost 900 portable radios for its officers in the field while CBP was storing close to 2,000 radios as “spares,” the audit said. Although orders soon went out to reallocate the extra radios, some Border Patrol sectors were still experiencing shortages 16 months later, according to documentation cited in the audit.

In all, DHS has more than 20 radio systems serving more than 120,000 agents and officers. Most of those systems date back to the 1980s. Last year, DHS awarded a $3 billion strategic sourcing contract to modernize them. But the projected savings could be “negatively impacted through poor procurement or inventory management practices,” the auditors wrote. In response to their recommendations, DHS officials agreed to take a department-wide “portfolio” approach to managing its radio equipment inventory and create a “single point of accountability” to make sure that approach is implemented.

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