Project SAFECOM:

Key Cross-Agency Emergency Communications Effort Requires Stronger Collaboration

GAO-04-494: Published: Apr 16, 2004. Publicly Released: Apr 16, 2004.

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One of the five priorities in the President's Management Agenda is the expansion of electronic government (e-government)--the use of Internet applications to enhance access to and delivery of government information and services. Project SAFECOM is one of the 25 initiatives sponsored by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to implement this agenda. Managed by the Department of Homeland Security, the project's goal is to achieve interoperability among emergencyresponse communications at all levels of government, while at the same time realizing cost savings. GAO assessed the government's progress in implementing Project SAFECOM.

While its overall objective of achieving communications interoperability among emergency response entities at all levels of government is a challenging task that will take many years to fully accomplish, Project SAFECOM, in its 2-year history, has made very limited progress in addressing this objective. OMB's e-government objectives of improving operating efficiency and achieving budgetary savings within federal programs have also been largely stymied. Two major factors have contributed to the project's limited progress: (1) lack of consistent executive commitment and support, and (2) an inadequate level of interagency collaboration. In its 2 1/2-year history, Project SAFECOM has had four different management teams in three different agencies. In recent months, the current project team has pursued various near-term activities that are intended to lay the groundwork for future interoperability, including establishing a governance structure that emphasizes collaboration with stakeholders and developing guidance for making grants that can be used to encourage public safety agencies to plan for interoperability. However, it has not yet reached written agreements with several of its major stakeholders on their roles in the project or established a stable funding mechanism. Until these shortcomings are addressed, the ability of Project SAFECOM to deliver on its promise of improved interoperability and better response to emergencies will remain in doubt.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Other federal agencies no longer contribute financial resources to the SAFECOM program, since it became solely a DHS program. Regarding performance measures, DHS officials have established some performance measures; however, several key aspects of the program are not being measured. Moreover, none of the program's measures assess the extent to which the first responder community finds the SAFECOM tools helpful or the effectiveness of the program's outreach initiatives.

    Recommendation: To enhance the ability of Project SAFECOM to improve communications among emergency personnel from federal, state, local, and tribal agencies, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Science and Technology to complete written agreements with the project's identified stakeholders, including federal agencies and organizations representing state and local governments. These agreements should define the responsibilities and resource commitments that each of those organizations will assume and include specific provisions that measure program performance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Science and Technology


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