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Provides Programs for Priority Calling, but Planning for New 
Initiatives and Performance Measurement Could Be Strengthened' which 
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Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight of Government 
Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, 
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 
GAO: 

August 2009: 

Emergency Communications: 

National Communications System Provides Programs for Priority Calling, 
but Planning for New Initiatives and Performance Measurement Could Be 
Strengthened: 

GAO-09-822: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-09-822, a report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on 
Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the 
District of Columbia, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental 
Affairs, U.S. Senate. 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

Government functions and effective disaster response and management 
rely on the ability of national security and emergency preparedness 
(NS/EP) personnel to communicate. The Department of Homeland Security’s 
(DHS) National Communications System (NCS), is responsible for ensuring 
continuity of NS/EP communications when network congestion or damage 
occurs. As requested, GAO assessed the (1) priority communication 
programs NCS provides, how it enlists subscribers, and to what extent 
NCS controls access to these programs; (2) challenges that can affect 
delivery of these programs; and (3) extent to which NCS plans for and 
evaluates its services. GAO reviewed NCS program documents, such as 
annual reports and access control procedures and data on program 
subscribers. GAO also interviewed officials from NCS and select state 
and local government entities. GAO compared NCS performance measures to 
federal best practices. 

What GAO Found: 

NCS has two programs to provide NS/EP personnel with priority calling 
service when telephone networks are congested or damaged—the Government 
Emergency Telecommunications Service (GETS) and the Wireless Priority 
Service (WPS). NCS has undertaken several efforts, such as outreach at 
industry conferences, to increase participation in and control access 
to these programs. According to NCS, though outreach efforts have 
helped to increase overall enrollment, it is working to further address 
possible cost barriers to participation in WPS, such as discussing 
options with wireless carriers to help defray costs. In addition, NCS 
has implemented policies and procedures to ensure that access to its 
priority programs are limited to authorized users. GAO’s review of 
select GETS and WPS subscriber data revealed that, of the 85 records we 
examined, NCS generally followed its policies and procedures to limit 
GETS and WPS access to authorized subscribers. 

NCS is taking steps to address inherent challenges in the 
communications environment—such as network congestion. For example, NCS 
initiated a satellite pilot program to allow NS/EP officials to 
circumvent severely damaged or congested traditional telephone 
networks. However, methods for implementation and evaluation of the 
pilot were unclear and NCS subsequently terminated the pilot. NCS is 
also working to provide priority voice and data NS/EP communications as 
part of the evolving telecommunications networks, but it has not 
finalized an acquisition approach based on available technologies, 
costs, or plans to mitigate technological and other challenges to 
deliver such capabilities. The lack of this information has led to 
congressional restrictions on NCS’s funding. As NCS attempts to ensure 
that GETS and WPS services can operate in these evolving networks, an 
acquisition approach that includes this information will provide NCS 
officials and Congress with essential information to most effectively 
allocate resources and guide decision making. 

Although DHS agreed with GAO’s June 2008 recommendation to complete the 
NCS strategic plan, NCS has not finalized its strategic plan which has 
been under development since 2007. Furthermore, existing performance 
measures do not cover all of its core responsibilities, as suggested by 
best practices, and certain performance measures could be strengthened. 
For example, NCS does not have a measure to gauge its performance in 
two of its key federal roles—critical infrastructure protection for 
communications under DHS’s National Infrastructure Protection Plan as 
well as coordinating communications issues under the National Response 
Framework. Furthermore, NCS does not use prior years’ enrollment levels 
to help determine increases, if any, to be made to future year’s goals 
for user enrollment. Fully and accurately measuring performance is 
critical to ensuring the agency and key stakeholders—such as Congress—
base program and resource decisions on actual performance. 

What GAO Recommends: 

Among other things, GAO recommends the Manager of NCS (1) define 
program capabilities, costs, and mitigation plans as part of NCS’s 
acquisition planning for enhanced NS/EP communications services; (2) 
incorporate strategic planning best practices as NCS finalizes its 
strategic plan; and (3) strengthen NCS’s performance measurement. DHS 
agreed with our recommendations. DHS’s detailed comments and GAO’s 
response are included in the report. 

View [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-822] or key 
components. For more information, contact William O. Jenkins at (202) 
512-8777 or jenkinswo@gao.gov. 

[End of section] 

Contents: 

Letter: 

Background: 

NCS Provides Priority Calling Services for NS/EP Personnel and Has 
Designed Mechanisms to Manage Access to These Services: 

Initiatives Exist to Address Challenges in NCS's Operating Environment, 
but Planning Efforts to Leverage Evolving Technology Could Be 
Strengthened: 

NCS Has Implemented Strategic Planning Efforts, but These Could Be 
Strengthened by Incorporating Key Planning and Performance Measurement 
Practices: 

Conclusions: 

Recommendations for Executive Action: 

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation: 

Appendix I: The NCS Organization Structure: 

Appendix II: Objectives, Scope and Methodology: 

Appendix III: Telecommunications Service Priority Program: 

Appendix IV: GETS and WPS Performance during Select Emergency Events: 

Appendix V: NS/EP Categories That Qualify for NCS's Priority 
Telecommunications Services: 

Appendix VI: Comments from the Department of Homeland Security: 

Appendix VII: GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments: 

Tables: 

Table 1: Participation Levels in the GETS and WPS Programs as of April 
2009: 

Table 2: GETS and WPS Subscriber Rates and Program Fees: 

Table 3: NCS's Strategic Goals and Select Objectives: 

Table 4: NCS's Performance Measures, Targets, and Results for Fiscal 
Years 2006 to 2009: 

Table 5: GETS and WPS Performance during Select Emergency Events: 

Table 6: NS/EP Categories That Qualify for NCS's Priority 
Telecommunications Services: 

Figures: 

Figure 1: Packet-Switching Versus Circuit-Switching: 

Figure 2: GETS Calling Card: 

Figure 3: Linkages between NCS Performance Measures and NCS and DHS 
Strategic Goals and Objectives: 

Figure 4: NCS Management Structure: 

Abbreviations: 

EOP: Executive Office of the President: 

ESF-2: emergency support function no. 2: 

FCC: Federal Communications Commission: 

FEMA: Federal Emergency Management Agency: 

GETS: Government Emergency Telecommunications Service: 

HSC: Homeland Security Council: 

IP: Internet Protocol: 

IPv4vInternet Protocol version 4: 

IPv6: Internet Protocol version 6: 

IXC: interexchange carrier: 

NCC: National Coordinating Center for Telecommunications: 

NCS: National Communications System: 

NEMA: National Emergency Management Association: 

NGN: next generation network: 

NIPP: National Infrastructure Protection Plan: 

NS/EP: national security and emergency preparedness: 

NS/EP NGN: national security and emergency preparedness next generation 
network: 

NSC: National Security Council: 

NSTAC: National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee: 

OMB: Office of Management and Budget: 

OMNCS: Office of the Manager, National Communications System: 

OSTP: Office of Science and Technology Policy: 

POC: point-of-contact: 

PSTN: public switch telephone network: 

VoIP: Voice over Internet Protocol: 

WPS: Wireless Priority Service: 

[End of section] 

United States Government Accountability Office: 
Washington, DC 20548: 

August 28, 2009: 

The Honorable Daniel K. Akaka: 
Chairman: 
Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal 
Workforce, and the District of Columbia: 
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: 
United States Senate: 

Dear Mr. Chairman: 

The global community relies on telecommunications services and 
infrastructure to conduct business, government, and daily life. 
[Footnote 1] Emergency events such as the September 11, 2001, terrorist 
attacks and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, during which communications 
capabilities were substantially disrupted, remind us of the fragility 
of the complex telecommunications infrastructure and the need to ensure 
availability of communications capabilities for leaders responsible for 
functions critical to the management of and response to national 
security and emergency situations. Telecommunications infrastructure is 
susceptible not only to flooding, fire, and power outages, but also to 
increased demand--all of which can limit the availability of 
telecommunications services or render services inoperable. In the 
United States, more than 2 billion calls are made every day via 
wireline and wireless networks, and, in 2008, more than 1 trillion text 
messages were transmitted. Additionally, since the mid-1990s, U.S. 
wireless telephone subscriptions have grown from about 28 million to 
more than 270 million as of December 2008, resulting in a significant 
surge in the number of daily voice and data transmissions. This surge 
can create increased competition for critical telecommunications 
resources that may be limited during disasters and emergencies. 
[Footnote 2] Heightened network use, in combination with the effects of 
disasters and emergencies, can produce cascading effects far beyond the 
physical location of the disaster area. 

In 1963, President Kennedy established the National Communications 
System (NCS),[Footnote 3] which now falls under the Department of 
Homeland Security (DHS), to facilitate continuity of government by 
maintaining communications between the President and officials with 
national security and emergency preparedness (NS/EP) functions. 
[Footnote 4] Given the critical nature of their roles, it is essential 
that these individuals have access to vital communications capabilities 
needed to carry out their NS/EP functions--particularly during 
disasters or emergencies. To that end, the NCS provides a number of 
programs and services designed to enable communications and facilitate 
continuity of government during emergencies. 

You requested that we review the communications capabilities and access 
to the priority communications programs that NCS provides. In response 
to your request, we prepared this report to answer the following 
questions: 

(1) What priority communications programs does NCS provide, how does 
NCS enlist subscribers, and to what extent does NCS control access to 
these programs? 

(2) What challenges, if any, can affect NCS's delivery of priority 
communications programs? 

(3) To what extent does NCS plan and evaluate its services? 

To analyze what priority communications programs NCS provides, we 
reviewed relevant legislation, available NCS program plans, as well as 
budget requests and annual reports. We also interviewed relevant NCS 
and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials who have varying 
responsibilities for priority communications. In addition, we 
interviewed cognizant representatives from AT&T, Qwest Communications, 
and Verizon. We selected these carriers because they provide NS/EP 
communications services and were amenable to meeting with us.[Footnote 
5] Although their views cannot be generalized to all telecommunications 
companies that provide NS/EP communications, the information we 
obtained helped to enhance our understanding of their role in providing 
emergency communications. We also interviewed NS/EP officials from a 
nonprobability sample of 15 states and 13 localities, which we selected 
based on a variety of factors including geographical location, terrain 
and climate conditions, and types and frequency of natural 
disasters.[Footnote 6] While the results of these interviews cannot be 
generalized to reflect the views of NS/EP emergency management 
officials in all states and localities, the information obtained 
provided us with useful information on the perspectives of various NS/ 
EP personnel about NCS and its priority communications programs. To 
determine how NCS enlists subscribers and controls access to its 
priority programs, we collected and reviewed subscriber eligibility 
criteria, and interviewed NCS officials on these criteria, NCS's 
outreach efforts to enlist new subscribers, and its internal controls 
for controlling access to these programs. We also obtained NCS standard 
operating procedures and compared them with criteria in Standards for 
Internal Control in the Federal Government.[Footnote 7] 

To determine whether NCS adhered to its procedures for terminating 
access for subscribers who no longer meet the programs' eligibility 
criteria, we reviewed subscriber records for select former federal and 
state government officials. Specifically, we reviewed a nonprobability 
sample of records for former members of the U.S. Senate as well as 
members and delegates of the U.S. House of Representatives; immediate 
past heads of federal departments and agencies as of August 2008; and 
immediate past governors of U.S. states and territories as of August 
2008, which is when we obtained the subscriber data. We selected these 
groups because they served in public positions that would allow NCS to 
easily determine that their positions ended, and in turn, work with the 
subscriber organization's to update account status, as appropriate. 
Although the results of our work cannot be generalized to evaluate the 
effectiveness of controls used for all NCS program subscribers, the 
information obtained provided us with useful information about the 
extent to which subscriber records were terminated for groups we 
reviewed following a change in the subscriber's eligibility status. 
Because the subscriber database, in its entirety, is classified, we 
have limited our reporting of the results of our analysis to only 
nonclassified information; however, this does not affect our findings. 
To assess the reliability of these data, we reviewed the data for 
obvious problems with completeness or accuracy, interviewed 
knowledgeable agency officials and contract support staff about the 
data quality control processes, and reviewed relevant documentation 
such as the database dictionary that describes various data fields in 
the subscriber database. We performed electronic testing on the data 
and found the data to be sufficiently reliable for the purposes of this 
report. 

To determine what challenges can affect NCS's delivery of its priority 
communication programs, we interviewed relevant NCS officials who have 
responsibilities for the implementation of these programs. We also 
obtained information and reviewed documentation such as briefing slides 
from the agency regarding its efforts to implement a pilot program to 
explore utilizing satellite technology, the Satellite Priority Service 
pilot program, as well as its efforts to leverage next generation 
network (NGN) technology in its priority communication programs. We 
compared this information with our previous work on pilot program 
planning and technology acquisition to determine the extent to which it 
was consistent with these criteria.[Footnote 8] 

To assess NCS's overall planning and evaluation efforts, we reviewed 
related program and planning documentation including Program Assessment 
Rating Tool (PART) reports submitted to the Office of Management and 
Budget (OMB).[Footnote 9] We also interviewed NCS officials about their 
strategic planning efforts and the mechanisms NCS uses to evaluate its 
services. We compared these efforts with criteria in guidance from the 
Office of Management and Budget (OMB), related legislation such as the 
Government Performance and Results Acts of 1993, as well as federal 
best practices contained in our past reports.[Footnote 10] Our work 
primarily focused on the office that is charged with executing the day- 
to-day functions necessary to meet federal national security and 
emergency preparedness telecommunications needs, which is the Office of 
the Manager, NCS (OMNCS). Throughout this report, unless otherwise 
noted, we refer to the OMNCS as the NCS, though organizationally, the 
NCS includes the OMNCS, as well as a 24-member interagency body, among 
other entities. For more details on the overall NCS organization 
structure, see appendix I. 

We conducted this performance audit from June 2007 through August 2009 
in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. 
Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain 
sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our 
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that 
the evidence provides a reasonable basis for our findings and 
conclusions based on our audit objectives. Appendix II contains more 
details on our scope and methodology. 

Background: 

Telecommunications Infrastructure: 

The telephone remains an essential communication tool for business, 
government, and the general public. The public switched telephone 
network (PSTN), an interconnected network of telephone exchanges over 
which telephone calls travel from person to person, is the backbone of 
the communications architecture that enables the transmission of voice 
and data communications. In general terms, the PSTN is the public 
communications system that includes the networks of local and long 
distance telephone carriers, as well as cellular networks and satellite 
systems. To connect one wireline (also known as landline) telephone to 
another, the telephone call is routed through various switches at 
telephone exchanges that are operated by local and long-distance 
telephone carriers.[Footnote 11] As a caller dials another party's 
number, the transmission from one caller to the other is made through a 
telephone company's facility, known as the central office, over copper 
wires or fiber-optic cables to the called party's telephone. Over time, 
the PSTN has evolved from an analog system to one that is almost 
entirely digital and able to support voice and data transmissions made 
from wireline and wireless devices. 

Wireless networks, which include cellular and satellite-based systems, 
among other systems, are an important and growing element of the 
communications infrastructure. Cellular and satellite-based systems and 
networks provide an alternative to wireline networks because they are 
potentially accessible from any point on the globe without the cost of 
installing a wire or cable. Rather than relying on wired connections, 
wireless devices (such as cellular telephones) are essentially 
sophisticated radio devices that send and receive radio signals. These 
devices connect to a wireless network--which may also interact with the 
PSTN, depending on the type of connection--that enables the wireless 
telephone to connect to another wireless or wireline telephone. 
Wireless networks operate on a grid that divides large geographical 
areas (such as cities) into smaller cells that can range from a few 
city blocks to several miles. Each cell contains or is adjacent to a 
base station equipped with one or more antennas to receive and send 
radio signals to wireless devices within its coverage area, which can 
range from less than a mile to 20 miles from the base station. When a 
caller turns on a wireless device, the device searches for a signal on 
an available channel from a nearby base station to confirm that service 
is available. At that time, the base station assigns a radio frequency 
(also known as radio channels) to the wireless device from among the 
group of frequencies that the base station controls. Each base station 
is wirelessly linked to a mobile switching office, as well as a local 
wireline telephone network. The mobile phone switching office directs 
calls to the desired locations, whether to another wireless device or a 
traditional wireline telephone. 

If a wireless caller is connecting with another wireless telephone, the 
call may go through the wireline network to the recipient's wireless 
carrier, or it may be routed wholly within the wireless network to the 
base station that is nearest the called party. On the other hand, when 
the wireless caller is connecting to a wireline phone, the call travels 
to the nearest base station and is switched by the caller's wireless 
carriers to a wireline telephone network. The call then becomes like 
any other phone call and is directed over the PSTN to the destination 
number. 

NS/EP Communications in the Next-Generation Networks: 

Because both voice and data transmissions have become common functions 
in daily life, an effective communications infrastructure that includes 
voice and data networks is essential to the nation's ability to 
maintain communications to enable public health and safety during a 
natural disaster, such as a hurricane, or a man-made disaster, such as 
a terrorist attack. Over the years, voice and data networks have 
evolved separately, with voice networks relying on circuit-switching 
methods while data networks largely use packet-switching techniques. 
[Footnote 12] Thus, a user requiring voice, data, and videoconferencing 
services may have to use three separate networks--a voice network, a 
data network, and a videoconferencing network. The telecommunications 
industry has begun to address the limitations of legacy communications 
infrastructure (such as the PSTN) to provide integrated voice, data, 
and video services. Technological advances in these networks have led 
to a convergence of the previously separate networks used to transmit 
voice and data communications. These new converged networks--commonly 
referred to as next-generation networks--are capable of transmitting 
both voice and data on a single network and eventually are to be the 
primary means for voice and data transmissions. Converged voice and 
data networks use technology that is based on packet switching which 
involves breaking a message (such as an ongoing videoconference, 
images, or voice conversation) into packets, or small chunks of data. 
Using the packet's destination address, computer systems called routers 
determine the optimal path for the packets to reach their destination 
where they are recombined to form the original message. In doing so, 
packets can be transmitted over multiple routes rather than via a 
predetermined circuit, which, in turn, can help to avoid areas that may 
be congested or damaged, among other things. For example, information 
sent over the Internet is packet-switched, the transmission of which is 
defined by Internet protocol (IP).[Footnote 13] Wireline and wireless 
carriers have begun transforming their networks to route voice data 
this way, called Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) rather than 
circuit-switched methods. The adoption of VoIP and other technological 
advances is changing the way in which people communicate and, as a 
result, are likely to become central to the future of NS/EP 
communications. Figure 1 shows a comparison between how information is 
transmitted via packet switching versus circuit switching. Industry 
analysts have said that although the transition to converged networks 
is well underway, they expect the process to take many years. 
Furthermore, NCS projects that half of the existing circuit-switched 
network will be transitioned to packet-based network by 2015 with the 
remainder reaching full transition by 2025. 

Figure 1: Packet-Switching Versus Circuit-Switching: 

[Refer to PDF for image: illustration] 

Packet-switched network: 

Original message: 
Broken into packets; 
Routed across a network path that can be modified as needed; 
Reassembled to form original message. 

Circuit-switched network: 

Original message: 
Routed across a fixed network path; 
Original message. 

Source: GAO analysis; Art Explosion (images). 

Note: The example above demonstrates how an e-mail or similar message 
is transmitted between computers and/or enabled wireless devices using 
packet-based versus circuit-based methods. In the top example, the 
three packets that comprise the original message can travel various, 
different paths, and can be rerouted as necessary to successfully 
complete transmission. 

[End of figure] 

Network Congestion Can Affect Communications Capabilities: 

Despite the evolution in telecommunications technology, congestion in 
the wireline and wireless telephone networks occurs. Damage or 
destruction of infrastructure, or extreme demand for service, can 
result in outages or congestion on the wireline and wireless networks 
which can impede or obstruct successful communications. During periods 
of congestion, the caller may encounter signs that the network is 
congested such as (1) a fast busy signal and (2) a prerecorded message 
alerting the caller that all circuits are busy. Given the importance of 
telecommunications to coordinating response and recovery efforts, it is 
essential that NS/EP officials successfully complete their calls even 
when there is damaged infrastructure or network congestion. For 
example, nationwide telecommunications congestion and failures during 
the September 11, 2001, attacks and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 were due, 
in part, to both damaged infrastructure and high call volume. 
Additionally, high call volume that has the potential to create network 
congestion can occur independent of emergencies. For example, Mother's 
Day has historically generated the highest volume of telephone calls of 
any day of the year. This increased call volume can create network 
congestion and cause call delay or disruption during normal operations; 
this congestion would also reduce the likelihood NS/EP personnel would 
be able to successfully place calls in the event of an emergency during 
this period. A similar issue exists for text messaging, wherein high 
volumes of text transmissions can create network congestion. For 
instance, on New Year's Eve, a spike in the number of text messages 
transmitted in the minutes immediately preceding and following midnight 
could overload cellular networks. The effects of this congestion could 
be severe for emergency responders in the event they needed to 
coordinate planning for or response to an emergency at that time. 

Organization and Responsibilities of the National Communications 
System: 

As part of the creation of DHS under the Homeland Security Act of 2002, 
NCS was transferred to DHS from the Department of Defense.[Footnote 14] 
Within DHS, NCS is organized as part of the Office of Cyber Security 
and Communications and has a fiscal year 2009 budget of $141 million. 
While the Secretary of Homeland Security has overall responsibility for 
the broader NCS organization,[Footnote 15] the duties are delegated to 
the NCS Manager who has primary responsibility for day-to-day 
activities of the NCS, including coordinating the planning and 
provisioning of communications services that support NS/EP needs. 
Central to its functions are the partnerships that NCS has established 
with federal, state, and local government entities, and with the 
service providers and equipment vendors that provide wireline and 
wireless communications services to support NS/EP communications. For 
example, NCS has long-standing relationships with industry groups such 
as the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC)--
a presidentially appointed committee of industry leaders--that help 
keep it abreast of changes in the commercial telecommunications 
marketplace.[Footnote 16] The committee provides industry-based 
analyses and recommendations to the President and executive branch 
regarding telecommunications policy and proposals for enhancing 
national security and emergency preparedness. 

Since joining DHS when DHS became operational in March 2003, federal 
policies provided that NCS's responsibilities include, among other 
things, serving as the lead coordinating agency for communications 
issues (defined as emergency support function no. 2, or ESF-2), under 
the National Response Framework.[Footnote 17] As part of this 
responsibility, when significant impact to the communications 
infrastructure occurs or is expected, NCS is to serve as one of the 
primary agencies to (1) support the restoration of the communications 
infrastructure and (2) coordinate the deployment of federal 
communications support to response efforts.[Footnote 18] As part of its 
ESF-2 role, NCS conducts and/or supports training and exercises 
intended to test and improve response and recovery capabilities needed 
in the event of an emergency or disaster. For example, NCS has 
supported exercises that model emergency scenarios that include 
potential and actual impacts to the communications infrastructure. In 
addition to its ESF-2 responsibilities, NCS serves as the Sector- 
Specific Agency to lead the federal government's efforts to protect 
critical communications infrastructure.[Footnote 19] In this regard, 
NCS works with industry that owns and operates the vast majority of 
communications infrastructure to develop strategies to protect against 
and mitigate the effects of natural disasters or manmade attacks 
against critical communications infrastructure. As part of this 
function, NCS is working with industry to develop a risk assessment 
methodology for use in assessing the communications sector's overall 
exposure including the threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences of an 
incident such as a natural disaster or man-made attack. 

Within NCS, the National Coordinating Center for Telecommunications 
(NCC), which serves as the operational component, is an industry- 
government collaborative body that coordinates the restoration and 
provisioning of NS/EP communications services during crises or 
emergencies.[Footnote 20] The NCC consists of officials from 24 
government agencies and 49 companies including eight industry members 
that are co-located at the center (such as AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon) 
as well as nonresident members that comprise the telecommunications 
sector--wireless companies, cable companies, internet service 
providers, satellite providers, and communications equipment 
manufacturers and suppliers, among others. Since January 2000, the 
center also functions as the Telecommunications Information Sharing and 
Analysis Center to allow information sharing between representatives of 
the telecommunications companies. During a disruption to 
telecommunications services, the NCS, through the NCC, coordinates with 
both resident and nonresident members with the goal of restoring 
service as soon as possible. According to NCS, this partnership allows 
both industry and government to work in close proximity, helping to 
ensure that NCS successfully executes its mission. For example, during 
the 2008 hurricane season, the NCC worked with its government and 
industry partners to identify communications assets and infrastructure 
in the impacted areas and develop pre-and post-landfall strategies and 
response activities to help ensure availability of communications. 

NCS Provides Priority Calling Services for NS/EP Personnel and Has 
Designed Mechanisms to Manage Access to These Services: 

In order to overcome network congestion, NCS has implemented priority 
calling programs to provide NS/EP personnel within all levels of 
government, as well as the private and non-profit sectors, with 
communications services during incidents of national security or 
emergency that can overwhelm the telecommunications network. [Footnote 
21] The two primary programs NCS provides to deliver priority calling 
are the Government Emergency Telecommunications Service (GETS) and the 
Wireless Priority Service (WPS). NCS has undertaken a number of 
outreach efforts to help increase participation in these priority 
calling programs and has designed controls to help ensure the use of 
these programs is only for authorized personnel and purposes. 

NCS's Two Main Programs Provide Priority Calling for NS/EP Personnel in 
the Event of Network Congestion During Emergencies: 

NCS has implemented two main programs intended to overcome busy 
networks during periods of congestion or network failure due to 
abnormally high usage or infrastructure damage; the GETS program 
provides wireline priority calling, and WPS provides wireless priority 
calling for authorized NS/EP officials. 

According to NCS, it established GETS in conjunction with the nation's 
telecommunications industry to meet White House requirements for a 
nationwide voice and limited data service intended for authorized 
personnel engaged in NS/EP missions.[Footnote 22] GETS is designed to 
provide priority treatment in the wireline portions of the PSTN during 
an emergency or crisis situation when the PSTN is congested and the 
probability of completing a call by normal means has been significantly 
decreased. For example, during the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing--one of 
the earliest uses of GETS in an emergency event--a high call volume of 
three times more than the usual volume resulted in an overload of the 
telephone network in the Oklahoma City area, according to NCS. During 
this emergency event, officials from the federal government and the 
private sector were able to successfully complete about 300 calls using 
the GETS service. According to a senior official from the Florida 
Division of Emergency Management, GETS was also used in Florida during 
Hurricane Katrina. Prior to hitting the Gulf Coast, the hurricane made 
landfall in South Florida, damaging the communications infrastructure 
and resulting in network congestion that prevented Florida emergency 
management officials from completing calls. According to this official, 
GETS allowed Florida emergency management officials to circumvent the 
congested lines and successfully complete calls. 

To activate a GETS call, subscribers follow a three-step process 
similar to that of using a traditional calling card. First, subscribers 
must dial the universal access number by using equipment such as a 
standard desk phone, payphone, secure telephone, cellular phone, VoIP 
telephone, or facsimile. Next, a tone prompts the subscriber to enter 
their GETS personal identification number (PIN) found on the calling 
card distributed to the subscriber. (Figure 2 shows the GETS calling 
card that is provided to each authorized NS/EP subscriber.) Lastly, the 
subscriber is prompted to enter a destination telephone number. Once 
the calling party's identity is authenticated (via the PIN), the call 
receives priority treatment that increases the probability of call 
completion in damaged or congested networks. GETS is designed to 
achieve a probability that 90 percent of calls made via the PSTN will 
be successfully completed--that is, establish a connection with the 
intended called party--during periods of network congestion or outage. 
[Footnote 23] The service achieves a high probability of call 
completion through a combination of features such as re-routing GETS 
calls around network blockage areas, routing calls to a second or third 
carrier if the first carrier's network is congested, and queuing 
pending GETS calls for up to 30 seconds, among other things.[Footnote 
24] Subscribers can place local, long distance, and international 
calls; however, it is not possible to use GETS to dial a toll-free 
destination number.[Footnote 25] When using GETS, subscribers are 
billed by the wireline carrier at a rate of $0.07 to $0.10 per minute 
for calls within the United States and its territories.[Footnote 26] As 
of April 2009, the program had grown to more than 227,000 subscribers, 
according to NCS. 

[Side bar: Illustration: The September 11, 2001, Terrorist Attacks: 
The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City and the 
Washington, D.C., area inflicted extensive damage to telecommunications 
infrastructure and, combined with increased call volume, resulted in 
network congestion. While much of the infrastructure damage occurred in 
New York City, resulting in immediate service disruption in the 
disaster area, the attacks also disrupted voice communications 
nationally. When the collapse of the twin towers indirectly caused 
damage to a telecommunications center owned by Verizon, about 182,000 
voice circuits and 1.6 million data circuits, among other things, were 
lost. In New York City, over 20 base stations in the immediate disaster 
area were damaged or destroyed, resulting in widespread cellular 
outages. Throughout the course of the day, heavy call volume across the 
United States at times reached up to 250 percent of normal levels and 
greatly overloaded the telecommunications networks, according to NCS. 
These events had a devastating effect on people’s ability to make calls 
into, within, and out of the immediate disaster areas. The network 
damage combined with increased call volume made it difficult for NS/EP 
officials in the New York and the Washington, D.C., areas to 
communicate using traditional calling methods in order to coordinate 
emergency response and recovery efforts. 

NCS describes the 2001 terrorist attacks as the first large-scale 
emergency event in which the performance of GETS service was tested. 
Despite the network congestion and damage, according to NCS, the GETS
service remained available and helped ensure that authorized NS/EP 
personnel had alternative means to communicate. For the period from 
September 11 to September 18, 2001, NCS reports that more than 19,000 
calls were attempted of which 18,117 were successfully completed 
resulting in a call completion rate of 95 percent. NCS also reported 
that it distributed about 1,900 new GETS cards during the event. 
End of Side bar] 

Figure 2: GETS Calling Card: 

[Refer to PDF for image: illustration of the front and back of a 
GETS card] 

Sources: GAO, NCS. 

[End of figure] 

As significant increases in wireless telephone subscribers occurred in 
the mid-1990s, the concept for a wireless priority capability first 
emerged, according to NCS; however, it was in the wake of the events of 
Tuesday, September 11, 2001, that the Executive Office of the 
President, through the National Security Council, directed NCS to 
implement a wireless priority capability. According to NCS, in the 
aftermath of the terrorist attacks, wireless carriers experienced 
significant difficulties trying to cope with the unprecedented call 
volume. The reported increase in the number of phone calls in the 
Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and New York City areas made between 9:00 
a.m. and 12:00 p.m. was 2 to 10 times the number on an average Tuesday. 
The resulting effort became WPS, which is a subscription-based service 
designed to help increase the probability of call completion for NS/EP 
personnel that rely on wireless devices--typically, a cell phone 
[Footnote 27]--while performing duties related to emergency response 
and recovery. To that end, WPS provides nationwide wireless priority 
calling capabilities, from call initiation through to when a connection 
is established with the called party, to NS/EP personnel during natural 
or man-made disasters or emergencies that result in network congestion 
or outages in the nation's wireless networks. 

Like the average U.S. consumer, NS/EP personnel have great flexibility 
in choosing a wireless carrier for wireless communications services. In 
order to assure that WPS capabilities are accessible by the majority of 
wireless services that could be used by NS/EP personnel, NCS has taken 
steps to ensure that the nationwide and regional wireless carriers that 
provide services to the greatest number of wireless customers upgrade 
their networks to support WPS functionalities. As a result, authorized 
WPS subscribers are able to access WPS in nearly all the major wireless 
markets in the continental United States and its territories. 
Currently, WPS is supported by all the nationwide wireless carriers 
(AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless). Additionally, 
regional carriers (such as Cellcom and Cellular South) that can help to 
provide WPS coverage in geographically remote or sparsely populated 
areas are at varying stages of updating their networks to support WPS. 

[Side bar: Illustration: 2005 Gulf Coast Hurricanes: 
In August 2005 and September 2005, the Gulf Coast was struck by two 
hurricanes (Katrina and Rita). On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina 
made landfall in Louisiana and significantly damaged or destroyed the 
communications infrastructure in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. 
According to the FCC, the storm caused outages for over 3 million 
telephone customers. A substantial number of central offices were 
flooded and consequently forced out of operation, according to NCS. 
Additionally, about 1,500 cellular sites were damaged and subsequently 
unable to provide wireless service. NCS reported that the 
infrastructure damage caused by the hurricane was among the worst of 
any disaster in the nation’s history. Moreover, Hurricane Katrina was 
the first large scale test of WPS in an emergency event, according to 
NCS. Despite the destruction and damage, from August 29 to September 5, 
2005, more than 27,000 GETS and about 3,400 WPS calls were successfully 
completed achieving a call completion rate of 95 and 89 percent 
respectively, according to NCS. 

On September 24, 2005, Hurricane Rita made landfall between Sabine 
Pass, Texas, and Johnson’s Bayou, Louisiana. Although the storm 
disabled thousands of phone lines, Hurricane Rita did not cause the 
extensive damage that occurred during Hurricane Katrina. In contrast, 
the number of GETS calls attempted was about 50 percent less than the 
totals for Hurricane Katrina. From September 24 to September 29, 2005, 
11,145 GETS calls were attempted, of which approximately 10,740 were 
successfully completed resulting in a call completion rate of about 96 
percent. During the same period, of the 1,109 WPS calls attempted, 983 
were successfully completed resulting in a call completion rate of 
about 89 percent. According to NCS, the majority of GETS and WPS calls 
that failed during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were largely a function 
of damaged infrastructure rather than network congestion. End of Side 
bar] 

To initiate a WPS call, authorized subscribers must dial *272 plus the 
destination number from their WPS-enabled cell phone.[Footnote 28] If 
all radio channels in the caller's area are busy, the call will be 
placed in queue for up to 28 seconds for access to the next available 
local radio channel. WPS subscribers receive additional priority based 
on their office or position to ensure that communications are first 
available for senior leadership (see appendix V for a description of 
how this priority is determined). While WPS provides priority access to 
the next available radio channel, it does not guarantee call completion 
as a WPS call may encounter further congestion while being routed 
through the wireline or wireless portions of the PSTN. Therefore, 
according to NCS, WPS is most effective when used in conjunction with 
GETS because GETS is also designed to help activate priority calling 
features in the wireless network in addition to the wireline network. 
Thus, using a GETS calling card after activating WPS can help to ensure 
a higher probability of call completion for calls placed from a 
cellular telephone to another cellular or wireline telephone number. 

As with GETS, WPS subscribers incur expenses as part of their 
subscription; however, the WPS fee structure is more expensive. In 
addition to wireless calling plan fees, WPS subscribers must pay (1) a 
one-time activation fee of up to $10.00, (2) a monthly service fee of 
up to $4.50, and (3) a $0.75 per minute fee when WPS is invoked by 
dialing the WPS code, *272. These fees help wireless carriers to recoup 
the costs associated with providing NS/EP calling features in their 
respective wireless networks, according to NCS. As of April 2009, there 
are approximately 93,000 WPS subscribers, according to NCS. 

[Side bar: Illustration: 2009 Presidential Inauguration: 
On January 20, 2009, about 2 million people attended the Presidential 
Inauguration held in Washington, D.C., to observe the swearing in of 
the 44th President of the United States. Because of the anticipated 
large crowds on the National Mall and immediate surrounding areas, as 
well as the presence of numerous senior government officials in the 
D.C. area, the federal government worked with its private sector 
partners to ensure the availability of communications during the 
inauguration activities. For example, in anticipation that observers 
would use cell phones and other wireless devices to communicate 
information and images of their experiences to family, friends, and 
television stations, NCS issued an advisory to GETS and WPS subscribers 
informing them of potential delays in using wireless communications and 
reminding them to use GETS and WPS if they have difficulty completing a 
call. NCS officials stated that from January 16 to January 20, 2009, 
they activated about 1,200 new GETS accounts and 3,700 WPS accounts—the 
majority of which were for law enforcement personnel and staff for the 
incoming administration. 

During the 24-hour period covering inauguration day there was a 
combined total of 1,429 GETS and WPS calls attempted. NCS officials 
stated that there was unprecedented stress on cellular networks 
resulting in extreme congestion and numerous incidents of blocked calls 
even though wireless carriers had deployed mobile cellular equipment in 
the event area to augment the capacity of their networks. Of the 771 
GETS calls attempted, about 99 percent were successfully completed, but 
of the 658 WPS calls attempted, 60 percent were successfully completed. 
End of Side bar] 

NCS Uses Outreach to Enlist Subscribers and Has Designed Controls to 
Help Ensure Priority Calling Services Are Used as Intended by Eligible 
Subscribers: 

Priority Calling Programs Available to Diverse Groups with NS/EP 
Responsibilities: 

NCS priority calling programs are primarily intended for officials with 
responsibilities for coordinating the functions critical to the 
planning, management, and response to national security and emergency 
situations--particularly during the first 24 to 72 hours following an 
emergency.[Footnote 29] According to NCS, participants in its priority 
programs come from federal, state, local, or tribal government, and 
private industry or nonprofit organizations.[Footnote 30] In order to 
subscribe to GETS and WPS, applicants must prove that their 
organization is engaged in activities essential to NS/EP functions 
including (1) national security leadership; (2) national security 
posture and U.S. population attack warning;[Footnote 31] (3) public 
health, safety, and maintenance of law and order; (4) public welfare 
and maintenance of national economic posture; and (5) disaster 
recovery. Furthermore, these individuals must demonstrate that they 
perform a function that is critical to the planning, management, and 
response to national security and emergency situations. At the federal 
government level, personnel that qualify to subscribe to the GETS and 
WPS service range from staff in the Executive Office of the President 
to members of Congress and officials in federal departments and 
agencies. Nonfederal representatives such as state governors, mayors, 
police and fire chiefs, as well as personnel engaged in restoration of 
services such as telecommunications and electricity, are among those 
who can qualify to use the priority calling programs. Appendix V 
provides further details about the types of positions and functions 
that generally qualify for access to the GETS and WPS programs. 

According to NCS, the number of personnel in the public and private 
sectors that perform functions critical to national security and 
emergency preparedness range from about 2 to 10 million people. In 
planning for future growth in its programs, NCS estimates that the 
communications network can successfully support up to 2 million 
priority subscribers. To that end, NCS has plans underway to achieve up 
to 2 million GETS subscribers. NCS officials have not yet finalized 
this goal or a goal for WPS subscribers but indicated that the WPS goal 
may be about 225,000 subscribers.[Footnote 32] As of April 2009, NCS 
has 227,614 active subscribers in the GETS program. For WPS, there were 
92,820 active subscribers. As table 1 shows, the federal government 
accounts for about 46 percent of active GETS subscribers and 72 percent 
of active WPS subscribers. 

Table 1: Participation Levels in the GETS and WPS Programs as of April 
2009: 

Category: Federal government; 
GETS subscribers: 104,391; 
WPS subscribers: 67,222. 

Category: State government; 
GETS subscribers: 25,969; 
WPS subscribers: 4,464. 

Category: Local government; 
GETS subscribers: 48,348; 
WPS subscribers: 9,054. 

Category: Tribal government; 
GETS subscribers: 82; 
WPS subscribers: 4. 

Category: Industry; 
GETS subscribers: 47,509; 
WPS subscribers: 12,010. 

Category: Other NS/EP organizations; 
GETS subscribers: 1,315; 
WPS subscribers: 66. 

Category: Total; 
GETS subscribers: 227,614; 
WPS subscribers: 92,820. 

Source: NCS. 

[End of table] 

NCS Conducts Outreach to Enlist Subscribers, Although WPS Cost Can Be a 
Barrier to Participation: 

NCS has undertaken several outreach efforts to help increase awareness 
of and participation in its priority calling programs across essential 
NS/EP personnel. These efforts include, for example, attending 
emergency management conferences, writing articles for emergency 
management and telecommunications publications, as well as deploying 
outreach coordinators to promote NCS's priority calling programs. For 
example, since 1995, NCS has participated in various conferences hosted 
by the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) and the 
International Association of Emergency Managers to facilitate its 
outreach and marketing efforts. At these conferences, NCS operates 
display booths and distributes marketing materials and may conduct 
presentations to help increase awareness about the benefits of its 
priority calling programs. NCS officials and/or contract personnel 
attend approximately 30 conferences annually that target federal, 
state, local, and industry NS/EP members. NCS officials told us that it 
has enlisted all but 1 of the 50 state emergency operations centers to 
participate in GETS and/or WPS because of initial contacts made at 
events hosted by NEMA. Similarly, to expand its outreach to other 
essential emergency personnel who also rely on wireline and wireless 
communications services during emergencies such as those from water, 
gas, and electric companies, NCS has attended conferences and other 
events that attract this target audience. 

In addition to attending conferences to reach general NS/EP personnel, 
NCS has implemented targeted outreach efforts to groups such as 
governors and state homeland security advisors; critical infrastructure 
facilities, such as nuclear power plant operations centers, national 
and regional airport traffic control centers; and federal officials who 
serve as the designated continuity coordinator within their respective 
agency. NCS officials report that they have generally made progress in 
enlisting these groups in its priority calling programs. For example, 
in 2008 NCS enlisted 56 of 71 federal continuity coordinators in the 
GETS program. NCS also worked with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission 
and the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure that GETS cards are 
available at all nuclear facilities and at all national and regional 
airports respectively. In 2005, NCS began deploying regional outreach 
coordinators to promote NCS's priority calling programs to emergency 
management officials and other key decision makers (such as governors) 
that coordinate emergency response and recovery and continuity of 
government in state and local government.[Footnote 33] NCS credits the 
addition of the regional outreach coordinators as a key reason for 
significant growth in enrollment rates across all NS/EP categories 
since 2005. 

Despite the outreach efforts NCS has undertaken to increase 
participation in its priority calling programs, WPS fees are a barrier 
to participation in the program, according to NCS. For example, as of 
October 2008, while the majority of federal continuity coordinators 
enrolled in the GETS program, only 44 percent or 31 of 71 federal 
continuity coordinators are WPS subscribers. Additionally, while 24 of 
56 state homeland security advisors subscribe to GETS, only 10 
subscribe to WPS, and only 8 governors subscribe to WPS while 43 
subscribe to GETS. The subscriber levels for the GETS program are more 
than twice that of the WPS program as shown in table 2. For each WPS- 
activated device, subscribers pay an initial activation fee of $10, a 
monthly fee of $4.50 as well as a usage fee of $0.75 per minute. In 
2006, NCS commissioned a study to examine barriers to WPS 
participation, among other things. According to NCS, the survey results 
found that program cost was the single largest impediment to 
participating in WPS. Similarly, our work showed that WPS fees can be a 
burden particularly for NS/EP members at the state and local government 
level due to limited financial resources. At least one-third of 37 
state and local government entities that we spoke with--including some 
who subscribe to WPS--stated that WPS fees affected the extent to which 
they participate in the program. For example, an official from the 
Oregon Emergency Management Division stated his organization's 
participation in the WPS is relatively low because the overall WPS 
costs can become very expensive when calculated across all subscribers 
in a particular agency. Another official from Ohio Emergency Management 
Division stated that his organization does not participate in the 
program due to budget constraints even though they consider WPS to be 
more beneficial than GETS because the wireless component is more widely 
used among staff performing emergency management functions. 

Table 2: GETS and WPS Subscriber Rates and Program Fees: 

Program: GETS; 
Number of subscribers (as of April 2009): 227,614; 
One-time activation fee: $0; 
Monthly fee: $0; 
Usage fee: $0.07 to $0.10 per minute. 

Program: WPS; 
Number of subscribers (as of April 2009): 92,820; 
One-time activation fee: $10 per device; 
Monthly fee: $4.50 per device; 
Usage fee: $0.75 per minute. 

Source: NCS. 

[End of table] 

In light of concerns about WPS subscription costs, NCS has been 
exploring ways to minimize the burden of program fees for its intended 
subscribers. For example, NCS examined the feasibility of the federal 
government subsidizing all or part of the WPS fees; however, DHS and 
OMB determined that this may not be feasible because of questions about 
the federal government's ability to sustain these costs in the future. 
Further, NCS has had discussions with the wireless carriers to explore 
ways to eliminate or defray the costs; however, the wireless carriers 
maintain that the fees are necessary to operate and maintain WPS 
capabilities in their networks in order to comply with the NCS 
requirements. Nevertheless, some carriers have made arrangements with 
WPS subscribers to provide WPS as part of a bundled telecommunications 
service package, which, according to NCS, can defray the costs. NCS 
officials have stated that they plan to continue to explore ways to 
address the WPS cost issue as it believes doing so can help increase 
participation in the WPS program. 

NCS Has Designed Procedures and Controls to Limit Access to Authorized 
Subscribers: 

Federal internal control standards[Footnote 34] state that documented 
policies and procedures to control access to agency resources and 
records to authorized individuals are essential to accountability and 
safeguarding assets, and NCS has developed and implemented policies and 
procedures to help ensure that access to its programs is limited to 
authorized subscribers. NCS has standard operating procedures that 
document how potential subscribers can gain access to its priority 
calling programs. To be approved for a GETS card and/or WPS service 
request, the NCS contractor must be able to confirm that the request is 
from an organization that performs any of five NS/EP functions 
mentioned earlier in this report. If the organization's NS/EP status is 
unclear (such as chemical suppliers, radio and TV stations, or housing 
shelters), the organization must obtain sponsorship from NCS, 1 of the 
24 NCS member agencies, or through the emergency management agency in 
the state or locality in which they operate. Once approved,[Footnote 
35] the organization must identify a primary point-of-contact (POC) and 
an alternate POC, if available. Within each organization, the POC is 
the primary liaison between NCS and individual GETS and WPS 
subscribers. The POC is responsible for (1) determining who should have 
access to the GETS and WPS service within their organization;[Footnote 
36] (2) processing all GETS and WPS service requests; (3) notifying NCS 
of changes to subscriber account data such as changes in name, 
telephone number, or eligibility status; (4) reviewing and certifying 
monthly subscriber calling data; (5) familiarizing subscribers with 
GETS and WPS functionalities,[Footnote 37] and (6) annual verification 
of subscriber eligibility. 

As evidenced by their responsibilities, NCS relies on the POCs to 
manage almost all aspects of subscriber accounts. However, through an 
annual verification process, NCS seeks to ensure that POCs provide a 
current account of subscribers who meet the eligibility requirements. 
NCS will make multiple attempts over a 90-day period to ensure the POC 
responds to its request to validate subscriber information, according 
to NCS officials and failure to do so can result in cancellation of the 
subscribers' account. NCS officials told us that they designed these 
verification procedures to help ensure that only eligible subscribers 
have access to NCS's priority programs. From our review of selected 
GETS and WPS records as a limited check on whether current positions 
meet eligibility criteria, we found that the GETS and/or WPS accounts 
for former members and delegates of the U.S. House of Representatives 
and the U.S. Senate in the 109th Congress were terminated in accordance 
with NCS's procedures. However, when we reviewed accounts for 15 
immediate past heads of federal departments and agencies as of August 
2008, we found 4 of 15 instances where these officials' GETS and/or WPS 
accounts were not terminated. We brought this to NCS's attention and 
officials told us that these accounts were terminated effective July 
2009. Further, NCS plans to institute new processes that are to include 
more frequent monitoring of GETS and WPS accounts that coincide with 
administration changes to ensure that the subscriber's account status 
is appropriately updated. 

In addition to verifying whether a subscriber is authorized to enroll 
in NCS's programs, telephone carriers as well as NCS and its 
contractors have applied fraud detection mechanisms intended to protect 
against fraudulent calls in their networks as well as others that are 
unique to the GETS and WPS services. For example, carriers have fraud 
detection for general telephone use that also detects fraud for GETS 
and WPS services. These detection mechanisms include detection of a 
single PIN being used simultaneously from multiple originating phone 
numbers and calls of long duration, among other things. NCS and its 
contractor said that they have also instituted procedures to determine 
the legitimacy of calls and to take corrective action, which may 
include disabling the GETS and WPS account in question. According to 
NCS, it has rarely found actual cases of fraud and abuse. For example, 
although there were 45 reported cases of potential fraudulent calls in 
2008, through further investigation NCS determined that the calls were 
legitimate and the reports typically resulted from calls placed by 
authorized subscribers conducting test calls or participating in 
preparedness exercises. Even if fraudulent calls were made using GETS 
and WPS services, the implications would likely be minimal due to two 
factors. First, the subscriber levels for GETS and WPS, which currently 
stand at more than 227,000 and about 93,000 respectively, are well 
below the capacity of the system. For example, according to NCS, the 
GETS system was designed to support up to 2 million subscribers, 
however, the current subscriber level--227,000 GETS subscribers--is 
well below the intended capacity. Second, the potential financial 
implications for the federal government would be nominal as NCS does 
not bear the costs for GETS and WPS charges for nonfederal subscribers. 
State and local governments as well as private and nonprofit 
organizations bear all of the costs related to the usage of the GETS 
and WPS programs. In general, NCS may cover GETS charges for federal 
departments and agencies up to an annual budget threshold; however, 
federal agencies may be responsible for these costs in the event of 
fraudulent or abusive calling activity. Federal and nonfederal WPS 
subscribers are responsible for all associated costs. 

Initiatives Exist to Address Challenges in NCS's Operating Environment, 
but Planning Efforts to Leverage Evolving Technology Could Be 
Strengthened: 

The delivery of NCS's priority calling services faces challenges 
related to the inherent vulnerabilities of the communication 
infrastructure such as downed phone lines, damaged cell towers, and 
broken circuits and switches. Therefore, NCS seeks to build redundancy 
into the communication capabilities and services it provides and has 
explored satellite technology to overcome such challenges. However, 
methods for implementation and evaluation of its related satellite 
pilot were unclear and NCS subsequently terminated the pilot. In 
addition, NCS faces the challenge of keeping pace with the rapid 
evolution in telecommunications technology and it is working with the 
telecommunications industry to ensure that NS/EP communications 
requirements are integrated into the next-generation communications 
networks. However, NCS's planning efforts to update its programs as 
technology evolves could be strengthened. 

NCS Launched the Satellite Pilot Program without Clear Methods for 
Implementation and Evaluation and Has Since Terminated the Pilot: 

In December 2007, NCS launched a satellite pilot program to provide an 
alternative means to support NS/EP communications to help circumvent 
network congestion or outages in the PSTN. According to NCS, because 
GETS and WPS leverage PSTN-based infrastructure to enable 
communications for NS/EP personnel, these programs can be limited in 
their ability to provide services when damage renders the PSTN 
infrastructure inoperable, such as it did in certain regions affected 
by Hurricane Katrina. In February 2004, the National Security 
Telecommunications Advisory Council (NSTAC) issued a report to the 
Executive Office of the President recommending that NCS develop a 
satellite capability to facilitate NS/EP communications. The 
communications challenges that arose during the 2005 Gulf Coast 
hurricanes due to flooding and loss of power, among other things, 
underscored the need for a communications capability that could 
transcend these infrastructure issues, and NCS observed that satellite 
networks appeared to be the least disrupted communications service 
during this event. To that end, 3 years following the 2005 Gulf Coast 
Hurricanes, NCS launched the first of two phases of the satellite pilot 
program intended to enable unclassified voice connectivity during 
emergencies that leverages satellite infrastructure independent of the 
PSTN. As part of the pilot, according to NCS officials, NCS is to 
provide participants with a wall-mounted unit that consists of battery 
backup and surge protection and a satellite phone. According to NCS 
officials, one objective of the pilot is to evaluate two voice 
communications capabilities via satellite technologies: push-to-talk 
communication functions and GETS priority calling using a satellite 
phone. Push-to-talk is a radio-like function, similar to that of a 
walkie-talkie or three-way radio, with which a group of users would 
connect back-and-forth with each other from their individual satellite 
phones at the push of a button without having to make individual calls. 
[Footnote 38] NCS also plans to use the pilot to test the ability to 
make GETS priority functions to call a wireline or cellular telephone 
number using a satellite phone. According to NCS, calls made from a 
satellite phone to a cellular or wireline telephone can bypass 
congested or damaged areas of the PSTN, as such calls can be routed via 
satellite networks to a less congested area of the PSTN, thus 
increasing the likelihood of call completion. However, because these 
calls are still expected to travel through the wireline and wireless 
portions of the PSTN to reach their destination, they could face 
congestion while trying to connect to the PSTN. To bypass such 
congestion, NCS officials stated that the GETS priority calling 
features must be supported on the satellite networks, which currently 
they are not. By inserting priority calling functionality in satellite 
networks, GETS calls that originate from a satellite phone will have a 
greater likelihood of being successfully routed through the PSTN in 
times of network congestion. NCS officials also told us that other 
objectives for the pilot include determining the extent to which 
satellite communications meet NS/EP needs and educating NS/EP personnel 
about the availability of satellite communications for use in emergency 
situations. 

Although the pilot began in December 2007 and is estimated to last 3 
years and cost $1.9 million, as of May 2009 NCS could provide little 
documentation to explain its objectives for the pilot, and how it 
planned to meet those objectives. For example, while NCS officials 
provided briefing slides to elaborate on the pilot program and describe 
some high-level program objectives, these slides lacked key program 
information such as a methodology for evaluating pilot results to 
determine whether the intended pilot objectives were met, and 
milestones for pilot implementation. Specifically, although the 
briefing slides noted the planned number of sites to be included in the 
pilot, it did not specify when the site selection would be completed, 
when sites would begin participating in the pilot, or the data that 
would be collected and analyzed to evaluate pilot performance. 
According to NCS, the pilot was to include up to 65 participating sites 
comprising emergency operations centers supporting federal and state 
government, and NCS officials stated they had initially identified six 
sites and conducted an evaluation of additional candidate sites. 
However, NCS officials could not provide any detailed information about 
what criteria or rationale was used to determine which sites to include 
in the pilot.[Footnote 39] For instance, while NCS officials told us 
they evaluated sites based on two factors (effects of disaster 
scenarios and population served by the respective location), they did 
not provide any documentation that outlined these details or 
demonstrated how these two factors would help it determine if the pilot 
objectives were met. In addition, as part of phase two of the satellite 
pilot, NCS officials said they intended to use lessons learned from the 
experience of phase one of the pilot to migrate the satellite 
capability to another NCS technology initiative already underway; 
however, NCS launched the pilot program without the benefit of 
completing a methodology to evaluate the pilot. In addition, NCS could 
not provide documentation as to how the results of the pilot would be 
evaluated and used to inform future program decisions such as future 
rollout. Exacerbating the absence of program planning documents, is 
that key staff originally involved in the pilot have since left NCS 
resulting in the loss of institutional knowledge about the original 
decisions and planning for the pilot. 

In April 2009, officials told us that the pilot had been placed on hold 
as they were reassessing various aspects of the pilot such as 
conducting a cost-benefit analysis to determine which satellite 
provider and equipment to use. After reassessing the pilot, NCS 
subsequently terminated the pilot in May 2009, according to NCS 
officials. NCS officials acknowledged that the pilot program needed 
improved planning and metric documentation and noted that NCS took a 
number of issues into consideration including the current availability 
of push-to-talk capability among existing satellite service providers 
in making the decision to end the pilot. 

NCS Is Restructuring Efforts to Keep Pace with Emerging 
Telecommunications Technology, but Further Development of Plans and 
Program Details Would Better Inform Program and Budget Decisions: 

NCS is mandated by presidential directive to support the use of 
technological advances and evolutionary communications networks for NS/ 
EP communications functions assigned to NCS, including programs it 
provides to maintain continuity of communications.[Footnote 40] GETS 
and WPS are designed to operate on the circuit-based PSTN platform, 
while packet-based IP networks are increasingly used and expected to 
eclipse the use of circuits in telecommunications, according to 
representatives from the telecommunications industry. As a result, NCS 
and its GETS and WPS subscribers face the risk that these services will 
not work within these next-generation networks. To avoid disruption or 
degradation of service, NCS plans to migrate existing GETS and WPS 
priority calling features from circuit-based networks to public 
telephone packet-based networks to assure that the programs will be 
operable on new technologies available from wireline and wireless 
carriers.[Footnote 41] NCS's efforts to integrate new and existing NS/ 
EP services into next-generation networks (NS/EP NGN) [Footnote 42] 
consist of two primary components: (1) priority voice communications 
and (2) priority data communications that includes priority treatment 
for the transmission of e-mail, streaming video, text messaging, and 
Internet access, among other things. 

NCS has taken steps to assess how the evolution of technology will 
affect the provision of its priority calling services and to plan for 
these changes. In addition, because NCS's programs are largely 
dependent on the telecommunications industry, which owns and operates 
most of the communications infrastructure on which GETS and WPS 
operate, NCS has partnered with industry to inform and implement these 
changes. According to NCS, adding the priority voice communications 
component of NS/EP NGN is less challenging than adding data services 
because while priority calling programs exist (GETS and WPS), priority 
data programs do not. NCS officials estimate that at least one of the 
three major carriers (AT&T) will begin supporting priority 
communications via VoIP by 2010 and the remaining carriers (Sprint and 
Verizon) by 2014. However, less is known about supporting priority data 
communications and, consequently, this effort is more challenging, 
according to NCS officials. 

The challenge to develop priority data services is not a new issue; in 
2006 we reported that the obstacles to offering the service include 
both technical and financial challenges.[Footnote 43] For example, the 
commonly used version of Internet protocol (known as IPv4) does not 
guarantee priority delivery and has certain security limitations that 
may not adequately protect information from being monitored or modified 
while in transit via the Internet. Though the next version (IPv6) has 
features that may help prioritize the delivery of data in the future 
and provide enhanced security, it is not yet widely adopted. Also, in 
March 2006, the NSTAC reported that while the NS/EP NGN initiative is 
expected to offer improvements for NS/EP communications, the security 
challenges are likely to have an operational impact on the transmission 
of NS/EP communications if not adequately addressed.[Footnote 44] 
Specifically, they noted that robust user authentication methods are 
needed in order to enable NS/EP personnel to share information in a 
secure manner. While these authentication methods are to be available 
through IPv6, they are not available through IPv4, which is the more 
widely used version. In April 2009, NCS officials told us they have not 
yet finalized what types of authentication methods or which IP version 
would support the NS/EP NGN, though they plan to request additional 
information from industry experts about how to address authentication 
issues. In our 2006 report, we noted that NCS had previously requested 
information from private companies on the potential for prioritizing 
services, and found that there was no offering for a priority service, 
nor was there any consensus on a standard approach to prioritization. 
Although, NCS, in conjunction with international standards bodies, 
completed the first set of engineering standards for priority VoIP in 
December 2007, as of May 2009, standards had not yet been established 
to support prioritized NS/EP NGN data communications.[Footnote 45] 
Moreover, NCS could not provide further detail as to how its planning 
efforts account for the different capabilities of the available 
technology, and the associated challenges. 

In addition to NCS not fully detailing how it plans to mitigate 
existing challenges, it also could not provide details about key 
program elements such as, the estimated total costs, and a timeline for 
implementation of the NS/EP NGN initiative. Officials said the 
information was not yet finalized. Our previous work on acquisition and 
technology investment management has shown that undertaking such 
efforts is strengthened by first ensuring that (1) an acquisition 
approach, such as the one for NS/EP NGN, is based on available 
technologies that support the intended capability; (2) cost estimates 
are realistic; and (3) risks have been identified and analyzed, and 
corresponding mitigation plans have been developed.[Footnote 46] NCS 
officials told us they planned to develop program plans that included 
this information, but as of May 2009 these documents were in the early 
stages of development, and officials stated they were finalizing cost 
and schedule estimates for the initiative, which may be greater than 
previously projected. In addition, for the last 2 years, Congress has 
raised questions about the absence of detailed program information such 
as costs of planned investments for some of NCS's programs, and NCS has 
faced difficulties in justifying its budget requests. For example, 
during the appropriations process for fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the 
House and Senate Committees on Appropriations raised questions about 
the intended investments in NS/EP NGN. Because of the lack of 
explanation about the significant increase in funds requested for 
fiscal year 2008 compared to the previous year, the House and Senate 
Committees on Appropriations stated that NCS had not adequately 
justified funding for the NS/EP NGN effort.[Footnote 47] Consequently, 
Congress appropriated $21 million--about 60 percent less than 
requested--to DHS for NS/EP NGN.[Footnote 48] In addition, the House of 
Representatives Committee on Appropriations directed DHS to brief them 
on the planned expenditures for NS/EP NGN in fiscal year 2008.[Footnote 
49] Again, for the fiscal year 2009 budget request for NS/EP NGN, the 
House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations raised questions 
about the lack of a thorough explanation of (1) information about 
planned investments, (2) clarity about how the initiative aligns with 
DHS's homeland security goals, and (3) information about the total 
costs to complete the initiatives.[Footnote 50] As a result, Congress 
withheld half of the fiscal year 2009 funding for NS/EP NGN until NCS 
completes an expenditure plan to be approved by the House and Senate 
Committees on Appropriations that identifies the strategic context, 
specific goals and milestones, and planned investments.[Footnote 51] 
Although NCS had planned to submit the expenditure plan to the 
Committees on Appropriations in January 2009, they have not done so, 
and as of May 2009, the plan was still being reviewed internally. 
[Footnote 52] 

Based on technological and planning challenges, NCS officials told us 
that in 2008 it began taking steps to restructure its acquisition 
approach to focus first on voice with data to follow much later. 
However, as noted by Congress in its response to NCS's fiscal year 2009 
budget request, little is known about this restructuring, including key 
program information such as what capabilities will be delivered, total 
costs, and milestones. Moreover, despite requirements from Congress to 
articulate its strategy for the NS/EP NGN initiative, as of May 2009 
NCS had not yet clearly defined program objectives and total costs, 
among other things. While NCS officials told us that they expect 
increased costs and schedule delays, they have not provided any further 
details or plans to mitigate these challenges, and it is unclear when 
important technological and program details of the restructuring will 
be finalized. In February 2009, NCS hired a new manager whose 
responsibilities include NS/EP NGN, who stated the need to plan for 
these issues and develop corresponding program plans that outline the 
NS/EP NGN acquisition approach including costs, milestones, and risk 
mitigation plans. 

GAO and commercial best practices show that incorporating cost 
information and strategies to mitigate program and technical challenges 
are essential to successfully meeting program objectives and minimizing 
the risk of cost overruns, schedule delays, and less than expected 
performance.[Footnote 53] As NCS moves forward with the NS/EP NGN 
effort, clearly defining and documenting its technical approach to 
achieve program objectives within the constraints imposed by known 
challenges--such as the limitations of available technologies and NCS's 
dependence on the telecommunications industry--could help provide 
reasonable assurance that an executable approach is in place to meet 
current and future NS/EP communications needs. Furthermore, such 
planning could provide a sound basis for determining realistic cost and 
schedule estimates and provide key stakeholders such as Congress with 
information they need to make funding decisions over time. 

NCS Has Implemented Strategic Planning Efforts, but These Could Be 
Strengthened by Incorporating Key Planning and Performance Measurement 
Practices: 

NCS has been developing its strategic plan since 2007, and although 
officials have stated that a strategic plan could help inform their 
efforts, it has not been finalized. In addition, while NCS has 
generally linked the performance of its programs to broader agency and 
department goals, the performance of two of NCS's core responsibilities 
is not measured. Finally, focusing program evaluation efforts on 
outcomes, gauging progress, incorporating past performance, and clarity 
can improve the usefulness of NCS's performance measures. 

NCS Has Been Developing a Strategic Plan since 2007, but It Has Not 
Been Finalized and Could Be Strengthened with Key Planning Practices: 

NCS has undertaken strategic planning for its programs and documented 
some key elements of strategic planning--such as a statement of the 
agency's mission, strategic goals, and objectives--across a range of 
documents and sources. For example, the mission statement is documented 
in program documents such as NCS's Annual Reports, and NCS officials 
told us they have identified 21 strategic objectives that align with 
its three strategic goals (information on the three strategic goals and 
some of the related objectives is shown in table 3). However, this 
information has not been incorporated into a strategic plan. 
Furthermore, NCS officials stated that these goals and objectives are 
being revised, but they did not provide a date when this would be 
finalized. Additionally, NCS's congressional budget justification 
documents for fiscal years 2007 through 2009 contain planned milestones 
and spending for various program initiatives. 

Table 3: NCS's Strategic Goals and Select Objectives: 

NCS Strategic Goals: Ensure availability of the communications 
infrastructure to support NS/EP requirements; 
Select NCS Objective: Ensure performance of priority communications 
services during normal and stressed emergency situations; 
Select NCS Objective: Enhance existing NS/EP communication 
capabilities. 

NCS Strategic Goals: Enhance and maintain NCS operational preparedness 
for effective and timely response and recovery to national emergencies; 
Select NCS Objective: Serve as the lead agency for Emergency Support 
Function 2 (ESF-2) in support of the National Response Plan; 
Select NCS Objective: Build on the strategic outreach and communication 
program to continue to raise awareness about NCS and NSTAC programs and 
activities. 

NCS Strategic Goals: Provide leadership in Critical Infrastructure 
Protection (CIP) as the telecommunications Sector-Specific Agency; 
Select NCS Objective: Serve as the sector-specific agency for the 
telecommunications sector; 
Select NCS Objective: Work with industry and other sector-specific 
agencies to improve communications assurance and preparedness. 

Source: NCS. 

[End of table] 

In June 2008, we reported that efforts were under way to draft a 
strategic plan for the NCS, and recommended that DHS establish 
milestones for completing the development and implementation of the 
strategic plan.[Footnote 54] DHS agreed with our recommendation and 
stated that it was taking steps toward finalizing the strategic plan. 
However, as of April 2009, the plan, which has been in draft since mid- 
2007, had not yet been finalized and NCS officials could not provide a 
date for when this would occur. A draft strategic plan for fiscal years 
2007 to 2013 did not include some of the key elements associated with 
effective strategic plans. For example, while the plan included NCS's 
mission, strategic goals and high-level objectives, it did not include 
a discussion of the resources needed to achieve these goals and 
objectives. Although NCS intends to enhance its priority communications 
offerings to keep pace with emerging technology (such as priority data 
in an IP environment), it has not yet finalized the total costs to do 
so. In addition, the draft plan did not identify external factors that 
could affect achievement of strategic goals (such as management or 
technological challenges). Moreover, the plan did not articulate how 
current and planned initiatives such as the NS/EP NGN and the satellite 
pilot program fit into the broader agency goals. 

Our past work has discussed the importance of strategic planning as the 
starting point for results-oriented management.[Footnote 55] Strategic 
plans are to articulate the mission of an organization or program, and 
lay out its long-term goals and objectives for implementing that 
mission, including the resources needed to reach these goals. Leading 
management practices state that federal strategic plans include six key 
elements: (1) a comprehensive mission statement, (2) strategic goals 
and objectives, (3) strategies and the various resources needed to 
achieve the goals and objectives, (4) a description of the relationship 
between the strategic goals and objectives and performance goals, (5) 
an identification of key external factors that could significantly 
affect the achievement of strategic goals, and (6) a description of how 
program evaluations were used to develop or revise the goals and a 
schedule for future evaluations.[Footnote 56] As we have previously 
reported, strategic plans are strengthened when they include a 
discussion of management challenges facing the program that may 
threaten its ability to meet long-term, strategic goals.[Footnote 57] 

While NCS has completed some key aspects of strategic planning, 
critical elements such as the key external factors that could affect 
achievement of its mission--for example, challenges affecting the NS/EP 
NGN initiative--have not yet been documented and NCS has not committed 
to incorporating these elements in its strategic plan. A strategic plan 
that captures these key elements in a centralized way would help inform 
stakeholders, such as departmental leadership, Congress, and the 
administration about NCS's priorities and plans and assist stakeholders 
in making efficient and effective program, resource, and policy 
decisions. In addition, because NCS has experienced frequent turnover 
in leadership, such a plan would be beneficial for new agency 
management during transition periods. For example, since January 2007, 
there have been two directors and one acting director as well as three 
different staff serving in the capacity of Chief for the Technology and 
Programs Branch--a position that oversees the day-to-day operations 
regarding NS/EP NGN, among other initiatives. 

NCS's Performance Measures Are Generally Linked to Broader Agency and 
Department Goals and Objectives, but Measures Do Not Cover All Core 
Program Activities: 

NCS has five performance measures which relate to three aspects of GETS 
and WPS--the number of subscribers, priority call completion rates in 
emergencies, and cost to support GETS and WPS subscribers. While NCS 
has not documented how its performance measures link to NCS's and DHS's 
strategic goals and objectives, we used various documents, such as 
DHS's fiscal year 2008 to 2013 strategic plan, to determine that NCS's 
five performance measures link to agency and department strategic goals 
and objectives (see figure 3, which illustrates the connection between 
DHS's mission to NCS's performance measures). For example, NCS's 
performance measure to track the call completion rate of priority calls 
is linked to its strategic goal of ensuring availability of 
communications as well as to DHS's strategic objective to ensure 
continuity of government communications. Consistent with our past work 
on performance management, linking performance measures with strategic 
goals and objectives in this way provides managers and staff with a 
roadmap that shows how their day-to-day activities contribute to 
achieving broader DHS and NCS goals.[Footnote 58] 

Figure 3: Linkages between NCS Performance Measures and NCS and DHS 
Strategic Goals and Objectives: 

[Refer to PDF for image: illustration] 

DHS Mission: 
Lead the unified national effort to secure America; prevent and deter 
terrorist attacks and protect against and respond to threats and 
hazards to the Nation; secure the national borders while welcoming 
lawful immigrants, visitors, and trade. 

DHS Strategic Goals: 
* Protect nation from dangerous people; 
* Protect nation from dangerous goods; 
* Protect critical infrastructure; 
* Strengthen nation’s preparedness and emergency response capabilities; 
* Strengthen and unify DHS operations and management. 

Select DHS Strategic Objective: 
Ensure Continuity of Government Communications and Operations: 
Implement continuity of operations planning at key levels of 
government. Improve our ability to continue performance of essential 
functions/business and government operations, including the protection 
of government personnel, facilities, national leaders, and the Nation’s 
communications infrastructure across a wide range of potential 
emergencies. 

NCS Mission: 
Assist the President, the National Security Council, the Homeland 
Security Council, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology 
Policy and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget in: (1) 
the exercise of the telecommunications functions and responsibilities; 
and (2) the coordination of the planning for and provision of national 
security and emergency preparedness communications for the Federal 
government under all circumstances, including crisis or emergency, 
attack, recovery and reconstitution. 

NCS Strategic Goals: 
* Ensure availability of the communications infrastructure to support 
NS/EP requirements; 
* Enhance and maintain NCS operational preparedness for effective and 
timely response and recovery to national emergencies; 
* Provide leadership in critical infrastructure protection as the 
telecommunications Sector Specific Agency. 

NCS Performance Measures: 
* Call completion rate for priority calling services; 
* Number of WPS subscribers; 
* Number of GETS subscribers; 
* Percent of federal continuity coordinators with access to priority 
calling services; 
* Average cost to maintain a subscriber to priority calling services. 

Source: GAO analysis of DHS and NCS data. 

[End of figure] 

While NCS's performance measures generally link to overall goals and 
objectives, NCS's performance measures focus exclusively on its 
priority calling programs, and NCS does not have measures to assess the 
performance of its other two primary responsibilities--serving as the 
ESF-2 coordinator and the lead federal agency for critical 
infrastructure protection for the communications sector. Although NCS 
officials acknowledged that they do not have such measures and noted 
that they could be helpful, these officials did not commit to 
developing such measures. While we have previously reported that 
agencies do not need to develop performance measures that cover all of 
their activities, OMB requires that performance measures reflect a 
program's mission and priorities.[Footnote 59] Furthermore, we have 
also reported that an agency's performance measurement efforts are 
strengthened when they sufficiently cover its core activities.[Footnote 
60] NCS's critical infrastructure protection and ESF-2 responsibilities 
are key components of the agency's mission to help ensure that NS/EP 
communications are available during disasters or emergencies, and are 
articulated in NCS's strategic goals (see table 3). For example, NCS, 
in conjunction with the telecommunication industry is responsible for 
conducting risk assessments of the nation's critical communication 
infrastructure; according to Executive Order 13,231, as amended, 
communications infrastructure is critical not only to emergency 
preparedness, but all aspects of U.S. national security and economy. 
Without the benefit of performance measures that cover these functions, 
NCS may be limited in its ability to assess its overall effectiveness 
in meeting all three of its strategic goals. Moreover, developing 
performance measures for these mission-critical functions would help 
strengthen and inform future program and budget decisions, improve 
critical program activities, and as we have previously reported, help 
verify that NCS's resources are being used responsibly.[Footnote 61] 

Focusing on Outcomes, Progress, and Past Performance to Set Performance 
Targets and Clarity Can Improve the Usefulness and Reliability of 
Performance Measures: 

Of its five performance measures, NCS has identified two as outcome 
measures, two as output measures, and one as an efficiency measure (see 
table 4 for more information on each of these measures).[Footnote 62] 
While OMB guidance defines output measures (such as the number of 
products or services delivered) as a description of the level of 
activity provided over a period of time, it asserts program performance 
is most effectively measured by focusing on how those outputs support 
the achievement of desired outcomes--the intended results of carrying 
out a program or activity.[Footnote 63] NCS's two output measures--the 
number of GETS subscribers and the number of WPS subscribers--could be 
strengthened to focus on outcomes, more effectively gauge progress 
toward achieving results, and set more reliable targets. In addition, 
one of NCS's outcome measures, the call completion rate, does not 
clearly illustrate the measures' intended purpose. OMB guidance 
emphasizes the use of outcome measures as a more meaningful indicator 
of performance and encourages agencies to translate existing measures 
that focus on outputs into outcome measures, or at least demonstrate 
that measured outputs would logically lead to intended outcomes. 
Currently, neither of NCS's output measures fully demonstrates how it 
supports NCS in the achievement of the intended outcomes of the GETS 
and WPS programs, which, as articulated in one of NCS's strategic goal, 
is to ensure the availability of communications capabilities for all 
NS/EP officials. For example, NCS told us that the long-term goal for 
the GETS program may be to reach 2 million subscribers; however, NCS 
has not demonstrated how reaching 2 million subscribers achieves the 
result of ensuring the availability of communications capabilities for 
NS/EP officials that could benefit from the use of the GETS service. 
According to NCS officials, NCS based this number on an internal study 
that identified 2 million subscribers as the capacity level that the 
PSTN can support. However, NCS could not provide a rationale as to how 
2 million subscribers appropriately quantifies the population of NS/EP 
personnel critical to NCS achieving its desired results. Therefore, it 
is unclear whether achieving 2 million GETS subscribers means that all 
the NS/EP personnel who have the greatest need for access to priority 
calling capabilities are enlisted in the program thereby enabling them 
to make calls that can help to coordinate planning for national 
security incidents and emergencies and facilitate continuity of 
government under these conditions--a key function of the GETS program. 
In addition, NCS officials have told us that the agency has an 
unofficial long-term goal of 225,000 subscribers for the WPS program. 
Although NCS officials noted that this number has not been finalized, 
the measure also does not portray how well or if WPS is achieving its 
desired program outcome. Furthermore, NCS has not been able to provide 
information regarding how it developed this WPS subscriber goal or 
describe how it will do so in the future. 

Table 4: NCS's Performance Measures, Targets, and Results for Fiscal 
Years 2006 to 2009: 

Performance measure: Priority service call completion rate during 
emergency communication periods; 
Description: Measures the call completion rate for GETS, WPS, and a 
classified priority calling program during emergency communication 
periods. The call completion rate is defined as the number of 
successful calls made divided by the total number of calls originated. 
A successful call is one in which the user (1) gets an answer, (2) a 
ring but no answer, or (3) a traditional busy signal; 
FY 2006 target: [A]; 
FY 2006 results: [A]; 
FY 2007 target: 90%; 
FY 2007 results: 94%; 
FY 2008 target: 90%; 
FY 2008 results: 97%; 
FY 2009 target: 90%. 

Performance measure: Number of WPS subscribers; 
Description: Measures the total number of subscribers who are 
authorized to use the Wireless Priority Service; 
FY 2006 target: 30,000; 
FY 2006 results: 38,594; 
FY 2007 target: 39,000; 
FY 2007 results: 47,214; 
FY 2008 target: 57,000; 
FY 2008 results: 85,076; 
FY 2009 target: 68,500. 

Performance measure: Number of GETS subscribers; 
Description: Measures the total number of subscribers registered to use 
the GETS program; 
FY 2006 target: 118,000; 
FY 2006 results: 158,669; 
FY 2007 target: 155,000; 
FY 2007 results: 168,428; 
FY 2008 target: 185,000; 
FY 2008 results: 208,600; 
FY 2009 target: 204,000. 

Performance measure: Percent of Federal Continuity Coordinators with 
access to priority telecommunications services; 
Description: Measures the percentage of federal continuity coordinators 
that are registered to use the GETS program; 
FY 2006 target: [B]; 
FY 2006 results: [B]; 
FY 2007 target: [B]; 
FY 2007 results: [B]; 
FY 2008 target: 80%; 
FY 2008 results: 81%; 
FY 2009 target: 90%. 

Performance measure: Average cost to maintain priority 
telecommunications service subscribers; 
Description: Measures the average cost to NCS to maintain subscribers 
in the GETS and WPS programs, as well as a classified priority calling 
program; 
FY 2006 target: [C]; 
FY 2006 results: [C]; 
FY 2007 target: $21.00; 
FY 2007 results: $17.00; 
FY 2008 target: $15.63; 
FY 2008 results: $13.70; 
FY 2009 target: $14.22. 

Source: NCS. 

[A] Data not available as NCS implemented this performance measure in 
fiscal year 2007. 

[B] Data not available as NCS implemented this performance measure in 
fiscal year 2008. 

[C] Data not available as NCS implemented this performance measure in 
fiscal year 2007. 

[End of table] 

Our past work, along with federal guidance, has discussed the 
importance of using a series of output and outcome goals and measures 
to depict the complexity of the results that agencies seek to achieve. 
[Footnote 64] We recognize that it can be difficult to develop outcome 
goals and corresponding measures. Nonetheless, by further articulating 
how NCS's measures support the intended outcome articulated in its 
strategic goal--ensuring availability of communications for NS/EP 
functions--, NCS and its stakeholders could more effectively gauge the 
extent to which subscriber levels in GETS and WPS reflect if 
communications capabilities are available to all critical NS/EP 
personnel as intended. 

NCS's progress can be better measured through annual performance 
targets that track subscriber levels to demonstrate how overall 
subscriber goals for GETS and WPS lead to program outcomes. This would 
help to better illustrate NCS's annual progress toward achieving its 
desired results. Furthermore, although both of NCS's output measures 
reflect the number of subscribers in each program for a given year, the 
measures do not reflect whether NCS's annual achievement demonstrate 
significant or marginal progress toward reaching 2 million subscribers, 
and NCS has not defined a time by which it hopes to achieve this goal. 
In its GETS and WPS performance measures, NCS states annual results as 
an output of the number of subscribers in a particular year--for 
example, 208,600 GETS subscribers in fiscal year 2008. These output 
measures do not capture percentage increases in the number of 
subscribers from year to year to help measure performance changes in 
achieving any long-term goal for subscribers. According to OMB 
guidance, performance over time is to be expressed as a tangible, 
measurable objective, against which actual achievement can be compared, 
such as a quantitative standard, value, or rate.[Footnote 65] For 
example, for NCS's performance measure related to the percent of 
federal continuity coordinators with access to priority calling 
programs--NCS tracks change over time by showing a rate of annual 
progress toward enlisting these particular officials in the GETS and 
WPS programs. In doing so, NCS can provide insight as to the extent to 
which this group can successfully place calls to help facilitate 
continuity of government at the federal level--particularly in the 
event of network congestion during emergencies.[Footnote 66] Although 
NCS has reported ongoing or planned targeted outreach efforts to 
similar groups that play a leadership role in coordinating emergency 
response and continuity of government such as governors or mayors, they 
have not developed similar performance measures to track their annual 
progress in enlisting and maintaining these subscribers. NCS has not 
finalized its overall goal for the number of GETS and WPS subscribers 
or set a timeline for when it plans to achieve its unofficial goals for 
the number of GETS and WPS subscribers. Based on GETS enrollment levels 
over the last 3 fiscal years, at current rates NCS may not achieve its 
unofficial subscriber goals until somewhere between 2015 and 2047. OMB 
guidance states that performance goals are to be comprised not only of 
performance measures and targets, but also include time frames for 
achieving these goals.[Footnote 67] 

In addition, OMB guidance states that targets are to consider past 
performance, adjusted annually as conditions change, such as funding 
levels and legislative constraints. However, NCS did not consider past 
performance when setting annual performance targets for several of its 
performance measures. As a result, the targets are not ambitious or 
based on reliable baselines. For example, NCS did not modify its 
targets for the number of GETS subscribers for fiscal years 2007 and 
2009 based on actual results achieved in the previous fiscal year. 
According to OMB performance guidance, baselines are the starting point 
from which gains are measured and targets set; and performance targets 
are to be ambitious. Our past work has also emphasized the importance 
of baselines and multiyear goals particularly when results are expected 
to take several years to achieve.[Footnote 68] As detailed in table 4, 
for fiscal year 2006, NCS reported a target of 118,000 GETS subscribers 
and achieved 158,669, which also surpassed its 2007 goal. However, NCS 
did not update its fiscal year 2007 goal of 155,000 when it was 
achieved in 2006. Similarly, in fiscal year 2008, NCS set a target of 
185,000 subscribers and achieved 208,600 subscribers, which surpassed 
the fiscal year 2009 goal. However, as of April 2009, the goal remained 
at 204,000 subscribers even though NCS exceeded this level in the 
previous fiscal year. Similarly, the target level for another measure--
the average cost to maintain a priority telecommunications service 
subscriber--has not been modified to reflect the actual results of the 
prior year. NCS began using this measure in fiscal year 2007 and has 
exceeded its target reductions in cost for the 2 years that the measure 
has been in place. For fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the average cost 
targets were $15.63 and $14.22, respectively; however, NCS reported 
that the average cost to maintain a priority service subscriber in 2008 
was $13.70, surpassing targeted reductions for both 2008 and 2009. As 
with the target for the subscriber measures, the average cost target 
was not modified to build upon actual results of the prior fiscal year. 
Furthermore, the baseline upon which each annual average cost goal is 
determined is the number of GETS and WPS subscribers. While officials 
cite reductions in operating costs as one reason for exceeding the 
target, they also stated that the achievement was more a function of 
the fact that they exceeded the projected number of GETS subscribers. 
As a result, because the annual GETS subscriber performance measure is 
not composed of ambitious targets from year to year, the baseline it 
provides for determining the average cost target is unreliable. Without 
considering changes in this baseline information--in this case, number 
of subscribers--valid comparisons to measure improvement over time 
cannot be made. Considering past performance in setting targets could 
help NCS develop a true sense of continued improvement in enlisting 
priority service subscribers and reducing costs to service the 
subscribers. 

Finally, while NCS has implemented an outcome-oriented measure to 
assess the effectiveness of its priority calling programs during 
periods of congestion, the information the measure intends to convey-- 
priority service call completion rate--is not consistent with the 
methodology used to calculate the results. Specifically, the measure is 
intended to capture and measure combined call completion rates for GETS 
and WPS. However, wireless carriers collect the relevant information 
that NCS reports via this measure, and under current processes for 
capturing attempted WPS calls, wireless carriers are unable to identify 
all attempted WPS calls that are not completed.[Footnote 69] Our 
previous work holds that performance measures should be clearly stated 
in order to ensure that the name and definition of the measure are 
consistent with the methodology used to calculate it.[Footnote 70] 
Furthermore, OMB guidance states that agencies are required to discuss 
the completeness and reliability of their performance data, and any 
limitations on the reliability of the data. As the call completion 
measure does not provide clear information about program performance 
and limitations, NCS risks overstating the completion rate for WPS and 
the use of this measure may affect the validity of managers' and 
stakeholders' assessment of WPS performance in comparison to the 
intended result. NCS officials agreed that opportunities exist to 
strengthen this measure to ensure that it accurately reflects the 
activity being measured, and stated they are taking steps to work with 
carriers that support WPS services to develop a solution that would 
allow them to track the full range of WPS calls. However, in the 
meantime, NCS has not committed to revising the measure to accurately 
reflect the activity being monitored. 

Conclusions: 

The events of September 11, 2001, and the 2005 hurricane season 
dramatically demonstrated how catastrophic man-made and natural 
disasters can disrupt communication capabilities and highlight the need 
for essential NS/EP officials to be able to communicate during and in 
the aftermath of such events. NCS continues to recognize the need to 
keep pace with technological changes and look for ways to better meet 
NS/EP personnel's current and future communications needs as evidenced 
by the development of its NGN initiative. Information such as costs, 
available technology, and future capabilities for these types of 
initiatives are unknown, and as such require thoughtful planning to 
most effectively allocate current and future resources. These efforts 
to ensure that the communication capabilities it provides to NS/EP 
personnel will be operable on and leverage next-generation networks 
could benefit from better planning. By clearly defining its acquisition 
approach for the initiative and developing mitigation plans to address 
known risks and technical challenges, NCS can help minimize cost 
overruns and schedule delays, and more importantly help ensure that it 
is developing services that meet the emerging communication needs of 
the NS/EP community. 

Strategic plans are an essential element in results-oriented program 
management, and provide agencies and stakeholders a common set of 
operational principles with which to guide actions and decisions. 
Although DHS stated that it was taking steps to finalize its strategic 
plan in response to our June 2008 recommendation, it has not yet 
finalized the plan which has been in draft since mid-2007 or committed 
to incorporating key elements of a strategic plan. We continue to 
believe that our prior recommendation has merit and that NCS could 
benefit from completing a strategic plan. A strategic plan that 
includes identifying strategic goals and objectives, the resources 
needed to achieve those goals and objectives, and a description of the 
relationship between planned initiatives and strategic goals could 
serve as the foundation to help NCS align its daily activities, 
operations, program development, and resource allocation to support its 
mission and achieve its goals. As NCS undertakes a variety of new 
initiatives and attempts to strengthen existing programs, finalizing 
its strategic plan will also help strengthen NCS's ability to 
efficiently and effectively allocate resources, inform key 
stakeholders, and provide agency and congressional decision makers the 
ability to assess NCS's programs and initiatives. 

As part of strategic planning, it is important that related performance 
measures are linked and support NCS strategic goals, as well as DHS's 
strategic goal of ensuring continuity of communications. In the absence 
of performance measures for the key functions NCS performs as the lead 
for the federal government's efforts to protect critical communications 
and as the coordinator for ESF-2, NCS cannot reasonably measure or 
demonstrate how these core program activities are contributing to 
achieving all three of its strategic goals and DHS's overall mission of 
providing continuity of communications. For a performance measure to be 
used effectively, it is essential that a measure's definitions, and its 
intended use, are consistent with the methodology used to calculate it. 
While NCS acknowledges that its primary performance measure for its 
priority calling programs--call completion rate--does not capture all 
WPS calls completed and is exploring ways to capture the full spectrum 
of uncompleted, by not revising the measure in the meantime to 
accurately portray what is being measured, NCS continues to 
inaccurately measure performance and provide potentially misleading 
information to decision makers. Similarly, by not adjusting the 
performance targets that intend to measure number of subscribers and 
average costs to build upon and reflect previous years' results, NCS 
cannot make valid comparisons to measure improvement over time, and 
cannot ensure whether performance goals are reasonable and appropriate. 
Beyond adjusting targets for the number of subscribers, opportunities 
exist to make these measures more outcome oriented to reflect the 
progress in reaching NCS's ultimate goals for the number of subscribers 
to its GETS and WPS programs. However, without clearly defining or 
demonstrating how its ultimate subscriber goals achieve the result of 
ensuring the availability of communications capabilities for NS/EP 
personnel who need these services, it will remain difficult to measure 
progress. To its credit, NCS has identified federal continuity 
coordinators as critical NS/EP personnel needing access to its programs 
and has developed an outcome measure to track progress in enlisting and 
maintaining this group of subscribers. However, without similar 
measures for other groups that play a significant role in coordinating 
emergency response and continuity of government, NCS will not be in a 
position to evaluate its efforts to reach out, target, and ultimately 
provide priority calling programs to these groups. 

Recommendations for Executive Action: 

To help ensure that NCS management has sufficient information needed to 
assess and improve NCS's programs and new initiatives and to 
effectively support budget decisions, we recommend that the Secretary 
of DHS direct the Manager of the NCS to take the following three 
actions: 

* Develop program plans for the NS/EP NGN initiative that outline an 
acquisition approach based on available technologies, realistic cost 
estimates, and that include mitigation plans to address identified 
challenges and risks. 

* Follow best practices for strategic planning in finalizing the NCS 
strategic plan including identifying the resources needed to achieve 
its strategic goals and objectives and providing a description of the 
relationship between planned initiatives such as the NS/EP NGN and 
strategic goals. 

* Strengthen NCS's performance measurement efforts by (1) developing 
measures to cover all core program activities, (2) exploring 
opportunities to develop more outcome-oriented measures, (3) ensuring 
performance measure baselines are reliable and based upon past 
performance, (4) and improving the clarity of its call completion 
measure. 

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation: 

We provided DHS a draft of this report for review and comment. DHS 
provided written comments on August 7, 2009, which are summarized below 
and presented in their entirety in appendix VI. DHS also provided 
technical comments, which we incorporated where appropriate. 

DHS disagreed with the recommendation in our draft report that it 
develop an evaluation plan for its satellite program that includes 
milestones for continued implementation and a methodology for assessing 
the results of the pilot before moving forward with the program. 
Specifically, DHS noted that the pilot program, which was on hold at 
the time of our review, was now complete. However, at the conclusion of 
our field work, our understanding from the NCS Director was that the 
pilot was on hold and that NCS was reassessing various aspects of the 
pilot such as conducting a cost-benefit analysis to determine which 
satellite provider and equipment to use. In light of this discrepancy, 
we subsequently obtained clarification on the status of the pilot. Our 
discussion with DHS revealed that the pilot program was terminated 
rather than completed. In providing clarification, DHS stated that it 
agreed with our assessment that the pilot program needed improved 
planning and metrics documentation and that NCS took a number of issues 
into consideration including the current availability of push-to-talk 
capability among existing satellite service providers to determine 
whether the pilot should be continued. Given these considerations, as 
well as the issues that we identified such as lack of program 
objectives, documentation and metrics, NCS terminated the pilot. 
According to NCS, about $900,000 had already been spent or obligated to 
support various activities for the pilot program. According to NCS 
officials, the remaining $1 million for the pilot will be reprogrammed 
and any funds that had already been obligated but not yet spent will be 
deobligated and also reprogrammed for other priority communications 
services. Thus, based on the termination of the pilot, we withdrew our 
recommendation and have modified our report to reflect the current 
status of the pilot. 

DHS concurred with our recommendation that it develop program plans for 
the NS/EP NGN initiative that outline an acquisition approach based on 
available technologies, realistic cost estimates, and that include 
mitigation plans to address identified challenges and risks. Although 
it concurred with our recommendation, DHS also reported that NCS 
currently follows a structured approach in the design and 
implementation of program plans and that it assesses industry trends to 
help determine program enhancements and mitigation plans. Developing 
program plans for the NS/EP NGN initiative as we recommended can help 
NCS minimize cost overruns and schedule delays and help ensure that it 
is developing services that meet the needs of the NS/EP community. 

DHS concurred with our recommendation that NCS follow best practices 
for strategic planning in finalizing the NCS strategic plan including 
identifying the resources needed to achieve its strategic goals and 
objectives and providing a description of the relationship between 
planned initiatives, such as the NS/EP NGN, and strategic goals. DHS 
stated that all NCS activities are directly linked to its mission and 
associated performance measures. Finalizing its strategic plan as we 
have recommended will help provide decision makers with information to 
help them assess NCS's programs and initiatives. 

With regard to our recommendation that NCS strengthen its performance 
measurement efforts by (1) developing measures to cover all core 
program activities, (2) exploring opportunities to develop more outcome-
oriented measures, (3) ensuring performance measure baselines are 
reliable and based upon past performance, and (4) improving the clarity 
of its call completion measure, DHS concurred. Specifically, DHS 
reported that NCS will continue to develop performance measures. Taking 
action to strengthen its performance measures as we recommended should 
help NCS improve its ability to evaluate its efforts to reach out, 
target, and provide priority calling programs. 

DHS also commented on the report's discussion of subscriber database 
accuracy, stating that it disagreed with what it viewed as our 
assertion that NCS should be able to easily determine whether certain 
individuals serving in public positions were still entitled to be GETS 
subscribers, as well as our expectation that NCS terminate access for 
individuals regardless of whether the subscriber's organization has 
notified NCS to do so. DHS also highlighted the steps that NCS takes to 
help ensure agency points of contact keep NCS's subscriber database 
updated. We modified the report to better recognize the role agency 
Points of Contacts play in updating NCS's database. 

DHS also noted that the report suggested that NCS's outreach efforts 
are limited to a select number of activities and noted that NCS also 
meets with other governmental bodies. We have modified our report to 
clarify the discussion that these are examples of outreach efforts that 
are not intended to be inclusive of all of NCS's efforts. 

As agreed with your office, unless you publicly announce the contents 
of this report earlier, we plan no further distribution until 30 days 
from the report date. At that time, we will send copies of this report 
to the Secretary of Homeland Security, and any other interested 
parties. In addition, this report will be available at no charge on 
GAO's Web site at [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov]. 

If you or your staff have any questions concerning this report, please 
contact me at (202) 512-8777, or jenkinswo@gao.gov. Contact points for 
our Office of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found 
on the last page of this report. Key contributors to this report are 
listed in Appendix VII. 

Sincerely yours, 

Signed by: 

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

[End of section] 

Appendix I: The NCS Organization Structure: 

The National Communications System (NCS) was established by a 
memorandum signed by President Kennedy in 1963, in the wake of the 
communications challenges that arose during the Cuban Missile Crisis 
when, according to NCS, delays in sending and receiving communications 
between the United States and foreign governments involved in the 
crisis threatened to further complicate the crisis. The original 
memorandum which has been amended and superseded over time, called for 
establishing a national communications system by linking together, and 
improving the communications assets of various federal agencies. 
[Footnote 71] Such a system is to provide the necessary communications 
for the federal government under all conditions ranging from normal 
conditions to domestic emergencies and international crises. Today, 
Executive Order 12,472 is the primary federal guidance in force that 
dictates the composition and functions of the NCS. Executive Order 
12,472 defined the NCS as those telecommunications assets owned or 
leased by the federal departments, agencies, or entities that comprise 
the NCS that can meet the national security and emergency preparedness 
(NS/EP) needs of the federal government together with a management 
structure that could ensure that a national telecommunications 
infrastructure is developed that is responsive to NS/EP needs, among 
other things. Executive Order 12,472 which was amended by Executive 
Order 13,286 on February 28, 2003, provided that NCS's mission is to 
assist the President, the National Security Council, the Homeland 
Security Council,[Footnote 72] the Directors of the Office of Science 
and Technology and Office of Management and Budget in, among other 
responsibilities, "the coordination of the planning for and provision 
of NS/EP communications for the Federal government under all 
circumstances, including crisis or emergency, attack, recovery, and 
reconstitution." 

The NCS organization structure largely consists of federal entities. 
However, the telecommunications industry serves in an advisory capacity 
to the federal government on matters regarding NS/EP communications. A 
description of the roles and responsibilities of the entities that 
comprise the NCS organization follows. See figure 4 for an illustration 
of the current NCS management structure. 

* Executive Office of the President (EOP). Within the EOP, the National 
Security Council (NSC), the Homeland Security Council (HSC), the Office 
of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the Office of Management 
and Budget (OMB) have varying responsibilities for setting the policy 
direction for NS/EP communications and providing oversight of the 
NCS.[Footnote 73] For example, in consultation with the Executive Agent 
and a group of federal telecommunications officers (known as the NCS 
Committee of Principals), the EOP helps to determine NS/EP 
telecommunications requirements. 

* NCS Executive Agent. Pursuant to the Homeland Security Act of 2002, 
the functions and responsibilities of the NCS Executive Agent were 
transferred to the Secretary of Homeland Security.[Footnote 74] Among 
other things, the Executive Agent is responsible for ensuring that the 
NCS conducts unified planning and operations, in order to coordinate 
the development and maintenance of an effective and responsive 
capability for meeting the domestic and international NS/EP 
telecommunications needs for the federal government as well as ensuring 
coordination with emergency management activities of the Department of 
Homeland Security (DHS). Additionally, the Executive Agent designates 
the NCS Manager and oversees related activities including the delivery 
of priority communications programs (such as Government Emergency 
Telecommunications Service (GETS) and the Wireless Priority Service 
(WPS)). 

* Office of the Manager, NCS. The Office of the Manager, NCS (OMNCS) 
falls under the Office of Cyber Security and Communications which is 
part of the National Protection and Programs Directorate within DHS. 
The responsibilities of the NCS Manager include, among other 
responsibilities, preparing for consideration by the NCS Committee of 
Principals and the Executive Agent: 

- recommendations on an evolutionary telecommunications architecture to 
meet current and future NS/EP needs; and: 

- plans and procedures for the management, allocation and use, 
including the establishment of priorities or preferences, of federally 
owned or leased telecommunications assets under all conditions of 
crisis or emergency. 

Additionally, the NCS Manager is responsible for implementing and 
administering any approved plans or programs as assigned, including any 
system of priorities and preferences for the provision of 
communications service, in consultation with the NCS Committee of 
Principals and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to the 
extent practicable or otherwise required by law or regulation. Further, 
the NCS Manager is to conduct technical studies or analyses for the 
purpose of identifying improved approaches which may assist in 
fulfilling NS/EP telecommunications objectives, among other things. 
Additionally, in consultation with the NCS Committee of Principals and 
other appropriate entities of the federal government, the NCS Manager 
is to ensure that, where feasible, existing and evolutionary industry, 
national, and international standards are used as the basis for federal 
telecommunications standards. The OMNCS also includes the National 
Coordinating Center--a joint industry-government entity--which assists 
in coordinating the initiation and restoration of NS/EP communications 
services and is involved in critical infrastructure protection of 
telecommunications assets. 

* NCS Committee of Principals. According to NCS, this collaborative 
body, chaired by the NCS Manager comprises of the key 
telecommunications officers of those agencies designated by the 
President that own or lease telecommunications assets of significance 
to national security or emergency preparedness, and other executive 
entities which bear policy, regulatory, or enforcement responsibilities 
of importance to NS/EP telecommunications capabilities. Currently, the 
NCS Committee of Principals includes representatives from 24 federal 
departments and agencies--known as the NCS Member Agencies.[Footnote 
75] In accordance with Executive Order 12,472, the NCS Committee of 
Principals, among other things, provides comments and recommendations 
to the National Security Council, the Director of OSTP, the OMB 
Director, the NCS Executive Agent, or NCS Manager regarding ongoing or 
prospective activities of the NCS. According to NCS, the NCS Committee 
of Principals, in accordance with its bylaws, has established subgroups 
such as the NCS Council of Representatives to help support the work 
activities of the NCS. Further, the NCS Committee of Principals 
established other groups such as the Priority Services Working Group to 
analyze the potential impact of future technologies on priority 
services programs and examine the outreach efforts for the GETS and WPS 
programs, among other things. 

* The National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC). 
The NSTAC was established in 1982 by Executive Order 12,382 to serve as 
an advisory committee to the President on matters related to NS/EP 
communications and may comprise of no more than 30 industry leaders 
appointed by the President. The NSTAC members are usually chief 
executive officers, from the telecommunications companies, network 
service providers, information technology firms, finance, and aerospace 
companies.[Footnote 76] As we previously reported, over the course of 
its longstanding relationship with the NSTAC, the NCS has worked 
closely with NSTAC member companies during emergency response and 
recovery activities following a terrorist attack or natural disaster. 
[Footnote 77] For example, after the September 11, 2001, terrorist 
attacks, NSTAC member companies immediately coordinated with NCS to 
assist with communication restoration efforts despite the fact that 
some of their network infrastructure had been among the most severely 
damaged. As we have previously reported, the NCS and NSTAC share 
information on a variety of issues including federal policies related 
to NS/EP communications and changes in the telecommunications 
marketplace. The NSTAC has also issued multiple reports addressing a 
wide range of policy and technical issues regarding communications, 
information systems, information assurance, critical infrastructure 
protection, and other NS/EP communications concerns. For example, in 
2006, NSTAC issued a report that identified challenges related to NS/EP 
communications and provided recommendations to the President intended 
to help ensure that next generation network initiatives meet NS/EP 
user's need, among other things.[Footnote 78] As provided under 
Executive Order 12,382, the NSTAC has established subgroups such as the 
Industry Executive Committee to help it carry out its functions. 
[Footnote 79] 

Figure 4: NCS Management Structure: 

[Refer to PDF for image: illustration] 

Top level: 
Executive Office of the President: HSC; NSC; OMB; OSTP; 
* Advise to NCS Committee of Principals (Government Arm) at second 
level; 
* Advise to National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee 
(Industry Arm) at second level. 

Second level, reporting to Executive Office of the President: 
Secretary of Homeland Security; NCS Executive Agent; 
* Coordination with NCS Committee of Principals (Government Arm); 
* Coordination with National Security Telecommunications Advisory 
Committee (Industry Arm). 

Third level, reporting to Secretary of Homeland Security: 
Office of the Manager, NCS (OMNCS): 
* Manager, NCS; 
* Deputy Manager, NCS; 
* Deputy Manager, NCS and Director; 
* OMNCS Staff. 
Direction given to NCS Committee of Principals (Government Arm); 
Coordination with National Security Telecommunications Advisory 
Committee (Industry Arm). 

Third level, Government Arm: 
NCS Committee of Principals; direction to: 
* NCS Council of Representatives; 
* Working Groups. 

Third level, Industry Arm: 
National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee; direction to: 
* Industry Executive Committee; 
* Task Force and Ad Hoc Groups. 

Fourth level, reporting to Office of the Manager, NCS (OMNCS): 
NCS Member Agencies: DOS; DOC; CIA; NTIA; TREAS; DHHS; FEMA; NSA; DOD; 
DOT; JS; USPS; DOJ; DOE; GSA; FRB; DOI; VA; NASA; FCC; USDA; DHS; NRC; 
ODNI. 

Source: NCS. 

[End of figure] 

[End of section] 

Appendix II: Objectives, Scope and Methodology: 

To analyze the extent to which the National Communications System (NCS) 
provides priority communications programs, we reviewed relevant 
legislation, regulations and other documentation that outline NCS 
responsibilities in ensuring the continuity of communication including 
the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Executive Orders 12,472 and 13,231, 
and NCS Directive 3-10. We also reviewed budget requests, annual 
reports, the Performance Assessment Rating Tool (PART) reports 
submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB),[Footnote 80] 
and other documentation related to NCS activities. We also obtained and 
reviewed relevant agency documents such as internal briefings, program 
planning documents, and standard operating procedures that describe how 
Government Emergency Telecommunications Service (GETS) and the Wireless 
Priority Service (WPS) operate and the capabilities that each program 
delivers. We obtained information on the mechanisms NCS utilizes to 
collect, track and analyze the performance of GETS and WPS. In 
addition, we obtained and analyzed data on the performance of GETS and 
WPS during select emergency or national special security events such as 
the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, the September 11, 2001, attacks, 
Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the 2009 Presidential Inauguration, 
among others. We also interviewed NCS officials to obtain information 
on the agency's role in ensuring continuity of communications, the 
types of priority communications capabilities it provides to the 
national security and emergency preparedness (NS/EP) community-- 
specifically through the GETS, WPS, and Telecommunications Service 
Priority (TSP) programs--as well as the types of challenges, if any, 
the agency may face in providing these services. We interviewed 
officials from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to obtain 
information on the agency's role in providing emergency communications, 
including how it works with NCS in providing priority communications 
capabilities. Furthermore, we interviewed telecommunications industry 
representatives from AT&T, Qwest Communications, and Verizon that are 
among the U.S. telephone carriers that provide NS/EP communications 
services. Although their views cannot be generalized to all 
telecommunications companies that provide NS/EP communications, the 
information we obtained helped to enhance our understanding of their 
role in providing emergency communications and their views on the 
impact the next generation network (NGN) technology transition may have 
on NCS's priority communication programs. 

We also interviewed NS/EP officials from a non-probability sample of 15 
states and 13 localities[Footnote 81] to obtain their perspectives and 
views on the NCS and its priority communication programs. Specifically, 
we obtained information from these officials regarding (1) their 
awareness of the NCS and the GETS, WPS, and TSP programs; (2) the 
extent they had utilized these programs in responding to an emergency 
situation and/or in their training and exercise activities; and (3) 
their perspectives on the benefits of these priority calling programs 
and potential barriers to participation. In selecting these states and 
localities, we considered a variety of factors including (1) the 
frequency and types of declared disasters by the Federal Emergency 
Management Agency (FEMA), (2) geographic dispersion, and (3) 
topographical factors that could affect the functionality of 
communications. The selected states and localities represent a range of 
natural disasters, terrains, climates, and population densities and 
also include areas that have recently experienced high-profile natural 
disasters or man-made attacks. While the perspectives of the officials 
we interviewed cannot be generalized to reflect the views of NS/EP 
emergency management officials in all states and localities, we believe 
the perspectives of the officials in these locations provided us with 
an overview and useful information on the NCS and the priority 
communications programs it provides. 

To determine how NCS enlists subscribers and controls access to its 
priority programs, we collected and analyzed documentation, and 
interviewed NCS officials (1) on subscriber eligibility criteria, (2) 
to determine NCS's outreach efforts to enlist new subscribers for its 
priority calling programs, and (3) to identify its internal controls 
for controlling access to these programs. With regards to NCS's 
outreach efforts, we obtained and reviewed documentation such as 
brochures, newsletters, and conference schedules on NCS outreach 
efforts including its use of regional outreach coordinators and its 
awareness booth deployments at various emergency management 
conferences. We also attended several NCS user-focused meetings and 
obtained documentation which detailed NCS efforts to attract new 
subscribers and provide support to current subscribers. To determine 
what internal controls NCS utilizes to grant and control access to its 
priority calling programs, we obtained the NCS standard operating 
procedures for GETS and WPS programs which outlined the procedures and 
processes to participate in the programs including the eligibility 
criteria, the approval process, and the re-validation process. We also 
obtained NCS standard operating procedures and compared them with 
criteria in Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government. 
[Footnote 82] To determine whether NCS adhered to its procedures for 
terminating access for subscribers who no longer meet the programs' 
eligibility criteria, we reviewed a nonprobability sample of records 
for 76 former federal and 9 former state government officials including 
former members of the U.S. Senate as well as members and delegates of 
the U.S. House of Representatives for the 109th Congress; immediate 
past heads of federal departments and agencies as of August 2008; and 
immediate past governors of U.S. states and territories as of August 
2008, which is when we obtained the subscriber data. We selected these 
groups because they served in public positions that would allow NCS to 
easily determine that their positions ended, and in turn, work with the 
subscriber's organization to update account status, as appropriate. 
Although the results of our work cannot be generalized to evaluate the 
effectiveness of controls used for all NCS program subscribers, the 
information obtained provided us with useful information about the 
extent to which subscriber records for these groups were terminated 
following a change in the subscriber's eligibility status. Because the 
subscriber database, in its entirety, is classified, we have limited 
our reporting of the results of our analysis to only nonclassified 
information; however, this does not affect our findings. 

To assess the reliability of these data, we reviewed the data for 
obvious problems with completeness or accuracy and interviewed 
knowledgeable agency officials and contract support staff about the 
data quality control processes and reviewed relevant documentation such 
as the database dictionary that describes the data fields in the 
subscriber database. When we found discrepancies (such as duplicate 
records), we brought them to the attention of NCS officials and its 
contract support staff to better understand the nature of the 
discrepancies and resulting impact on our work. We performed electronic 
testing on the data and found the data to be sufficiently reliable for 
the purposes of this report. 

To determine what challenges can affect NCS's delivery of its priority 
communications programs, we interviewed relevant NCS officials who have 
responsibilities for these programs. We also obtained information and 
reviewed documentation from the agency regarding its efforts to 
implement the Satellite Priority Service pilot program, as well as its 
efforts to leverage NGN technology in its priority communication 
programs. We compared this information with our previous work on pilot 
program planning and technology acquisition.[Footnote 83] 

To assess NCS's overall planning and evaluation efforts, we interviewed 
NCS officials and reviewed relevant documentation regarding their 
strategic planning efforts and the mechanisms they use to evaluate 
their services. Specifically, we reviewed and analyzed NCS's draft 
strategic plan to determine the extent to which the plan outlined the 
agency's short and long term strategic goals and objectives, the 
associated time frames with their identified goals and objectives, the 
current status of the goals and objectives and internal and external 
factors that may affect their ability to achieve their goals and 
objectives. We also obtained and reviewed the OMB Performance 
Assessment Rating Tool, NCS's Congressional Budget Justifications, and 
other documents that outlined the performance measures utilized to 
assess the extent they are achieving their goals and objectives; and 
planned milestones and spending for their priority calling programs. To 
assess the effectiveness of NCS planning efforts, we compared their 
efforts with federal best practices contained in our past reports which 
discussed the importance of strategic planning.[Footnote 84] We also 
utilized guidance from OMB Circular A-11, and related federal 
legislation, such as the Government Performance and Results Acts of 
1993, which identifies the six key element of a strategic plan. 
[Footnote 85] In addition, we interviewed NCS officials about their 
strategic planning efforts and the mechanisms they use to monitor and 
evaluate their services. While NCS is not required to explicitly follow 
these guidelines, the guidelines do provide a framework for effectively 
developing a strategic plan and the basis for program accountability. 

We conducted this performance audit from June 2007 through August 2009 
in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. 
Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain 
sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our 
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that 
the evidence provides a reasonable basis for our findings based on our 
audit objectives. 

[End of section] 

Appendix III: Telecommunications Service Priority Program: 

The Telecommunications Service Priority (TSP) program provides priority 
provisioning and restoration of telecommunications services that 
support emergency operations facilities for certain federal, state, and 
local governments and other entities. Such services include equipment 
used to transmit voice and data communication by wire, cable, and 
satellite, among other things. During and following an emergency event, 
wireless and wireline carriers may receive numerous requests for new 
telecommunications service as well as for the restoration of existing 
services. Under this program, telecommunications carriers and their 
partners (collectively referred to as service vendors) are required to 
restore national security and emergency preparedness (NS/EP) 
telecommunications services that suffer outage, or are reported as 
unusable or otherwise in need of restoration, before non-NS/EP 
services.[Footnote 86] As with Government Emergency Telecommunications 
Service (GETS) and the Wireless Priority Service (WPS), certain 
government agencies and other groups are identified as having specific 
NS/EP responsibilities that qualify them for priority provisioning and 
restoration of services. However, unlike GETS and WPS, for which new 
subscriptions can be requested and approved during emergency response 
and recovery activities, authorization to receive TSP priority services 
must be in place before it is needed. Although the federal government 
does not charge a fee, telecommunications service providers (such as 
wireless carriers and cable and satellite providers) may charge an 
initial startup fee of up to $100 per circuit and a monthly fee of up 
to $10 per circuit.[Footnote 87] The National Communications System 
(NCS) reported that as of fiscal year 2008, over 1,000 organizations 
have registered more than 191,000 circuits under the TSP program. 

Telecommunications personnel have traditionally faced difficulties in 
accessing disaster areas in order to make TSP repairs to communications 
assets. According to telecommunications representatives that are part 
of the National Coordinating Center for Telecommunications (NCC) within 
NCS, access for repair crews to disasters areas has been an issue 
dating back to Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and during the aftermath of 
Hurricane Katrina. For example, an independent panel formed to examine 
the telecommunications challenges during Hurricane Katrina, reported 
that inconsistent and unclear requirements for repair crews and their 
subcontractors to gain access to the affected area impeded their 
efforts to make necessary repairs including those that they are 
required to complete under the TSP program.[Footnote 88] The panel 
reported that there were no mechanisms in place to issue credentials to 
those who needed them prior to Hurricane Katrina making landfall. 
Consequently, personnel from telecommunications companies were unable 
to gain access to repair some communications assets in the disaster 
area because they lacked the necessary credentials to access these 
areas. For example, during Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana authorities, 
among others, provided credentials to telecommunications repair crews 
to permit them access to certain affected areas; however, 
telecommunications personnel reported that within disaster areas, 
credentials that permitted access through one checkpoint would not be 
honored at another. In addition these personnel reported that in some 
cases the checkpoints required different documentation and 
credentialing before granting access to repair personnel. As a result, 
repair personnel had to carry multiple credentials and letters from 
various federal, state, and local officials authorizing their access to 
the disaster area. Furthermore, telecommunications personnel were 
unclear about which government agency had the authority to issue the 
necessary credentials. Similarly, repair crews reported that other 
factors delayed or interrupted the delivery of TSP services, such as 
the enforcement of curfews and other security procedures intended to 
maintain law and order. 

Although the full scope of these credentialing issues is outside NCS's 
jurisdiction, under the communications annex of the revised 2008 
National Response Framework, NCS is to coordinate with other emergency 
support function 2 (ESF-2) support agencies, among others, to ensure 
that telecommunications repair personnel have access to restore 
communications infrastructure in the incident area. To help facilitate 
this, NCS has taken steps to work with federal, state, and local 
government agencies as well as the private sector to identify 
solutions. For instance, NCS has coordinated with emergency management 
officials in Georgia and Louisiana to develop standard operating 
procedures to ensure access for critical infrastructure workers during 
emergencies or disasters. NCS officials also told us that they have 
begun to catalog the access procedures for various states and 
localities that could be provided to telecommunications personnel in 
order to facilitate access to damaged infrastructure in the aftermath 
of an emergency or disaster. In addition, other federal agencies, such 
as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), have also taken 
steps to address this issue. For example, in November 2008, FEMA 
released for comment credentialing guidelines for essential personnel 
who need access to disaster areas in order to facilitate response, 
recovery and restoration efforts.[Footnote 89] The guidelines are 
intended to provide a uniform approach at the state and local level to 
provide telecommunications repair personnel, among others with access 
and credentials needed to enter a disaster area in order to expedite 
the restoration of communication capabilities. 

[End of section] 

Appendix IV: GETS and WPS Performance during Select Emergency Events: 

Government Emergency Telecommunications Service (GETS) and the Wireless 
Priority Service (WPS) are designed to achieve a probability that 90 
percent of calls made using these services will successfully connect. 
The ability to communicate is critical to coordinating emergency 
response and recovery efforts during the first 72 hours following an 
emergency; however, the availability of communications can be disrupted 
by increased call volume or outages that occur in wireline and wireless 
networks. According to NCS, telephone calls made without the use of 
GETS or WPS during nonemergency periods generally result in a 99 
percent likelihood of successful completion--that is the (1) called 
party answers the call, (2) called number rings but is not answered, or 
(3) called number responds with a busy signal. However, during a 
disaster or emergency event, NCS officials stated that the public 
switched telephone network (PSTN) can experience up to 10 times the 
normal call volume. Conversely, without using GETS or WPS, 
approximately 9 out of every 10 calls would not complete during a time 
period when the PSTN is highly congested. 

NCS's priority calling programs services have been used to facilitate 
communications across the spectrum of emergencies and other major 
events dating back to the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombings through the 
recent 2009 Presidential Inauguration. GETS and WPS usage has varied 
greatly during disasters or emergencies as the programs have evolved 
and the programs have generally achieved call completion rates that 
range from 68 percent to 99 percent. For example, during the 1995 
Oklahoma City bombings, of 429 GETS calls attempted 291 calls that may 
not have otherwise been completed due to network overload reached the 
intended destination number and resulted in a call completion rate of 
about 68 percent.[Footnote 90] In contrast, during Hurricane Katrina in 
2005, the number of GETS calls attempted was 28,556, of which 27,058 
(or 95 percent) were successfully completed (see table 5). 
Additionally, GETS and WPS capabilities were also used during the 2003 
power outage that affected New York City and other areas. During this 
event, there were fewer GETS and WPS calls made in comparison to other 
events; however, the call completion rates for the duration of the 
event were 92 percent and 82 percent respectively. 

Table 5: GETS and WPS Performance during Select Emergency Events: 

Event: September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks; 

Time frame following onset of event: 24 hours; 
Date: 11-Sep-01; 
GETS calls attempted: 2,283; 
GETS calls completed: 2,025; 
GETS call completion rate: 89%; 
GETS cards distributed: 100; 
WPS calls attempted (a): Data unavailable as WPS did not yet exist; 
WPS calls completed (b): Data unavailable as WPS did not yet exist; 
WPS Call completion rate: Data unavailable as WPS did not yet exist. 

Time frame following onset of event: 48 hours; 
Date: 12-Sep-01; 
GETS calls attempted: 628; 
GETS calls completed: 556; 
GETS call completion rate: 89%; 
GETS cards distributed: 100; 
WPS calls attempted (a): Data unavailable as WPS did not yet exist; 
WPS calls completed (b): Data unavailable as WPS did not yet exist; 
WPS Call completion rate: Data unavailable as WPS did not yet exist. 

Time frame following onset of event: 72 hours; 
Date: 13-Sep-01; 
GETS calls attempted: 675; 
GETS calls completed: 617; 
GETS call completion rate: 91%; 
GETS cards distributed: 155; 
WPS calls attempted (a): Data unavailable as WPS did not yet exist; 
WPS calls completed (b): Data unavailable as WPS did not yet exist; 
WPS Call completion rate: Data unavailable as WPS did not yet exist. 

Time frame following onset of event: Total duration of event; 
Date: 11-27 Sep-01; 
GETS calls attempted: 19,071; 
GETS calls completed: 18,117; 
GETS call completion rate: 95%; 
GETS cards distributed: 1,956; 
WPS calls attempted (a): Data unavailable as WPS did not yet exist; 
WPS calls completed (b): Data unavailable as WPS did not yet exist; 
WPS Call completion rate: Data unavailable as WPS did not yet exist. 

Event: 2003 Northeastern Blackout; 

Time frame following onset of event: 24 hours; 
Date: 14-Aug-03; 
GETS calls attempted: 658; 
GETS calls completed: 604; 
GETS call completion rate: 92%; 
GETS cards distributed: 21; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 22; 
WPS calls completed (b): 13; 
WPS Call completion rate: 59%. 

Time frame following onset of event: 48 hours; 
Date: 15-Aug-03; 
GETS calls attempted: 344; 
GETS calls completed: 308; 
GETS call completion rate: 90%; 
GETS cards distributed: 20; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 38; 
WPS calls completed (b): 28; 
WPS Call completion rate: 74%. 

Time frame following onset of event: 72 hours; 
Date: 16-Aug-03; 
GETS calls attempted: 85; 
GETS calls completed: 85; 
GETS call completion rate: 100%; 
GETS cards distributed: 0; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 56; 
WPS calls completed (b): 55; 
WPS Call completion rate: 98%. 

Time frame following onset of event: Total duration of event; 
Date: 14-16 Aug-03; 
GETS calls attempted: 1,087; 
GETS calls completed: 997; 
GETS call completion rate: 92%; 
GETS cards distributed: 41; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 116; 
WPS calls completed (b): 95; 
WPS Call completion rate: 82%. 

Event: 2005 Hurricane Katrina; 

Time frame following onset of event: 24 hours; 
Date: 29-Aug-05; 
GETS calls attempted: 1,075; 
GETS calls completed: 1,030; 
GETS call completion rate: 96%; 
GETS cards distributed: 208; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 656; 
WPS calls completed (b): 611; 
WPS Call completion rate: 93%. 

Time frame following onset of event: 48 hours; 
Date: 30-Aug-05; 
GETS calls attempted: 2,071; 
GETS calls completed: 1,989; 
GETS call completion rate: 96%; 
GETS cards distributed: 109; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 1,400; 
WPS calls completed (b): 1,217; 
WPS Call completion rate: 87%. 

Time frame following onset of event: 72 hours; 
Date: 31-Aug-05; 
GETS calls attempted: 2,345; 
GETS calls completed: 2,236; 
GETS call completion rate: 95%; 
GETS cards distributed: 166; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 1,728; 
WPS calls completed (b): 1,528; 
WPS Call completion rate: 88%. 

Time frame following onset of event: Total duration of event; 
Date: 29 Aug-09 Sep-05; 
GETS calls attempted: 28,556; 
GETS calls completed: 27,058; 
GETS call completion rate: 95%; 
GETS cards distributed: 1,027; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 3,784; 
WPS calls completed (b): 3,356; 
WPS Call completion rate: 89%. 

Event: 2005 Hurricane Rita; 

Time frame following onset of event: 24 hours; 
Date: 22-Sep-05; 
GETS calls attempted: 1,783; 
GETS calls completed: 1,628; 
GETS call completion rate: 91%; 
GETS cards distributed: 0; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 471; 
WPS calls completed (b): 428; 
WPS Call completion rate: 91%. 

Time frame following onset of event: 48 hours; 
Date: 23-Sep-05; 
GETS calls attempted: 1,211; 
GETS calls completed: 1,107; 
GETS call completion rate: 91%; 
GETS cards distributed: 0; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 728; 
WPS calls completed (b): 617; 
WPS Call completion rate: 85%. 

Time frame following onset of event: 72 hours; 
Date: 24-Sep-05; 
GETS calls attempted: 817; 
GETS calls completed: 756; 
GETS call completion rate: 93%; 
GETS cards distributed: 139; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 621; 
WPS calls completed (b): 540; 
WPS Call completion rate: 87%. 

Time frame following onset of event: Total duration of event; 
Date: 22-29 Sep-05; 
GETS calls attempted: 14,139; 
GETS calls completed: 13,475; 
GETS call completion rate: 95%; 
GETS cards distributed: 1,356; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 2,308; 
WPS calls completed (b): 2,028; 
WPS Call completion rate: 88%. 

Event: 2007 San Diego Wildfires; 

Time frame following onset of event: 24 hours; 
Date: 24-Oct-05; 
GETS calls attempted: 458; 
GETS calls completed: 458; 
GETS call completion rate: 100%; 
GETS cards distributed: 0; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 783; 
WPS calls completed (b): 780; 
WPS Call completion rate: 100%. 

Time frame following onset of event: 48 hours; 
Date: 25-Oct-05; 
GETS calls attempted: 1,277; 
GETS calls completed: 1,276; 
GETS call completion rate: 100%; 
GETS cards distributed: 317; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 861; 
WPS calls completed (b): 855; 
WPS Call completion rate: 99%. 

Time frame following onset of event: 72 hours; 
Date: 26-Oct-05; 
GETS calls attempted: 1,988; 
GETS calls completed: 1,987; 
GETS call completion rate: 100%; 
GETS cards distributed: 141; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 517; 
WPS calls completed (b): 507; 
WPS Call completion rate: 98%. 

Time frame following onset of event: Total duration of event; 
Date: 24-28 Oct-05; 
GETS calls attempted: 5,152; 
GETS calls completed: 5,147; 
GETS call completion rate: 100%; 
GETS cards distributed: 543; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 2,617; 
WPS calls completed (b): 2,582; 
WPS Call completion rate: 99%. 

Event: 2008 Hurricane Gustav; 

Time frame following onset of event: 24 hours; 
Date: 1-Sep-08; 
GETS calls attempted: 1,200; 
GETS calls completed: 1,199; 
GETS call completion rate: 100%; 
GETS cards distributed: 0; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 395; 
WPS calls completed (b): 369; 
WPS Call completion rate: 93%. 

Time frame following onset of event: 48 hours; 
Date: 2-Sep-08; 
GETS calls attempted: 1,404; 
GETS calls completed: 1,401; 
GETS call completion rate: 100%; 
GETS cards distributed: 0; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 611; 
WPS calls completed (b): 588; 
WPS Call completion rate: 96%. 

Time frame following onset of event: 72 hours; 
Date: 3-Sep-08; 
GETS calls attempted: 517; 
GETS calls completed: 503; 
GETS call completion rate: 97%; 
GETS cards distributed: 6; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 785; 
WPS calls completed (b): 765; 
WPS Call completion rate: 97%. 

Time frame following onset of event: Total duration of event; 
Date: 1-3 Sep 2008; 
GETS calls attempted: 7,026; 
GETS calls completed: 6,923; 
GETS call completion rate: 99%; 
GETS cards distributed: 555; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 3,311; 
WPS calls completed (b): 3,028; 
WPS Call completion rate: 91%. 

Event: 2008 Hurricane Ike; 

Time frame following onset of event: 24 hours; 
Date: 11-Sep-08; 
GETS calls attempted: 1,629; 
GETS calls completed: 1,625; 
GETS call completion rate: 100%; 
GETS cards distributed: 53; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 580; 
WPS calls completed (b): 528; 
WPS Call completion rate: 91%. 

Time frame following onset of event: 48 hours; 
Date: 12-Sep-08; 
GETS calls attempted: 1,345; 
GETS calls completed: 1,337; 
GETS call completion rate: 99%; 
GETS cards distributed: 52; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 821; 
WPS calls completed (b): 756; 
WPS Call completion rate: 92%. 

Time frame following onset of event: 72 hours; 
Date: 13-Sep-08; 
GETS calls attempted: 2,420; 
GETS calls completed: 2,344; 
GETS call completion rate: 97%; 
GETS cards distributed: 0; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 1,011; 
WPS calls completed (b): 983; 
WPS Call completion rate: 97%. 

Time frame following onset of event: Total duration of event; 
Date: 11-18 Sep-08; 
GETS calls attempted: 17,525; 
GETS calls completed: 17,301; 
GETS call completion rate: 99%; 
GETS cards distributed: 1,433; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 7,231; 
WPS calls completed (b): 6,884; 
WPS Call completion rate: 95%. 

Event: 2009 Presidential Inauguration; 

Time frame following onset of event: 24 hours; 
Date: 16-Jan-09; 
GETS calls attempted: 1,260; 
GETS calls completed: 1,235; 
GETS call completion rate: 98%; 
GETS cards distributed: 23; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 536; 
WPS calls completed (b): 372; 
WPS Call completion rate: 69%. 

Time frame following onset of event: 48 hours; 
Date: 17-Jan-09; 
GETS calls attempted: 228; 
GETS calls completed: 228; 
GETS call completion rate: 100%; 
GETS cards distributed: 0; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 86; 
WPS calls completed (b): 58; 
WPS Call completion rate: 67%. 

Time frame following onset of event: 72 hours; 
Date: 18-Jan-09; 
GETS calls attempted: 222; 
GETS calls completed: 220; 
GETS call completion rate: 99%; 
GETS cards distributed: 0; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 156; 
WPS calls completed (b): 96; 
WPS Call completion rate: 62%. 

Time frame following onset of event: Total duration of event; 
Date: 16-20 Jan 2009; 
GETS calls attempted: 4,032; 
GETS calls completed: 4,005; 
GETS call completion rate: 99%; 
GETS cards distributed: 1,188; 
WPS calls attempted (a): 1,615; 
WPS calls completed (b): 1,050; 
WPS Call completion rate: 65%. 

Source: NCS. 

Note: In some cases, call completion rate may not equal 100% due to 
rounding. 

[End of table] 

[End of section] 

Appendix V: NS/EP Categories That Qualify for NCS's Priority 
Telecommunications Services: 

The National Communications System (NCS) uses five broad categories to 
determine who may be eligible to participate in its priority calling 
programs such as the Government Emergency Telecommunications Service 
(GETS) and the Wireless Priority Service (WPS). Eligible subscribers 
may include personnel from federal, state, local, or tribal government; 
as well as private industry and or non-profit organizations (see table 
6 below for further detail on each of these categories). In addition, 
these categories are used to prioritize WPS calls in order to further 
ensure that communications are first available for senior executive 
leaders and policy makers at the federal, state, and local government 
level. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in response to 
NCS's request, established these priority levels that are used to 
determine which WPS calls are to receive the first available channel 
with level five receiving the lowest priority (though all levels 
receive priority over non-WPS callers).[Footnote 91] In the event of an 
emergency and network congestion, the mobile switching center queues 
the call according to the subscriber's priority level and call 
initiation time. For example, authorized staff from the Executive 
Office of the President would receive priority over national security 
and emergency preparedness (NS/EP) officials who have responsibility 
for public health and law enforcement if they placed calls at the same 
time. NCS has not determined whether a similar approach is required for 
the GETS program; however, if it is determined that a similar approach 
is needed--NCS believes it can apply the WPS approach to the GETS 
program. Table 6 also shows the priority level for each user category. 

Table 6: NS/EP Categories That Qualify for NCS's Priority 
Telecommunications Services: 

NS/EP category: Executive Leadership and Policymakers; 
Priority level: 1; 
Description: Individuals in high-level government positions; 
Examples of positions that could qualify for GETS and WPS: 
* The President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, 
selected military leaders, and the minimum number of senior staff; 
* Members of the United States Congress and senior staff; 
* State governors, lieutenant governors, cabinet-level officials 
responsible for public safety and health, and the minimum number of 
senior staff; 
* Mayors, county commissioners, and the minimum number of senior staff. 

NS/EP category: Disaster Response/Military Command and Control; 
Priority level: 2; 
Description: Individuals eligible for this category include personnel 
key to managing the initial response to an emergency at the local, 
state, regional and federal levels. Personnel selected for this 
priority level should be responsible for ensuring the viability or 
reconstruction of the basic infrastructure in an emergency area. In 
addition, personnel essential to continuity of government and national 
security functions (such as the conduct of international affairs and 
intelligence activities) are also included in this priority; 
Examples of positions that could qualify for GETS and WPS: 
* Federal emergency operations center coordinators, e.g., Manager, 
National Coordinating Center for Telecommunications, National 
Interagency Fire Center, Federal Coordinating Officer, Federal 
Emergency Communications Coordinator, Director of Military Support; 
* State emergency services director, National Guard Leadership, State 
and Federal Damage Assessment Team Leaders; 
* Federal, state and local personnel with continuity of government 
responsibilities; 
* Incident Command Center Managers, local emergency managers, other 
state and local elected public safety officials; 
* Federal personnel with intelligence and diplomatic responsibilities. 

NS/EP category: Public Health, Safety, and Law Enforcement; 
Priority level: 3; 
Description: Individuals eligible for this category are individuals who 
direct operations critical to life, property, and maintenance of law 
and order immediately following an event; 
Examples of positions that could qualify for GETS and WPS: 
* Federal law enforcement command; 
* State police leadership; 
* Local fire and law enforcement command; 
* Emergency medical service leaders; 
* Search and rescue team leaders; * Emergency communications 
coordinators. 

NS/EP category: Public Services/Utilities and Public Welfare; 
Priority level: 4; 
Description: Individuals eligible for this category are those users 
whose responsibilities include managing public works and utility 
infrastructure damage assessment and restoration efforts and 
transportation to accomplish emergency response activities; 
Examples of positions that could qualify for GETS and WPS: 
* Army Corps of Engineers leadership; 
* Power, water and sewage and telecommunications utilities; 
* Transportation Leadership. 

NS/EP category: Disaster Recovery; 
Priority level: 5; 
Description: Individuals eligible for this category are those 
individuals responsible for managing a variety of recovery operations 
after the initial response has been accomplished. These functions may 
include managing medical resources such as supplies, personnel, or 
patients in medical facilities. Other activities such as coordination 
to establish and stock shelters, to obtain detailed damage assessments, 
or to support key disaster field office personnel may be included; 
Examples of positions that could qualify for GETS and WPS: 
* Medical recovery operations leadership; 
* Detailed damage assessment leadership; 
* Disaster shelter coordination and management; 
* Critical Disaster Field Office support personnel. 

Source: NCS. 

[End of table] 

[End of section] 

Appendix VI: Comments from the Department of Homeland Security: 

Office of GAO/OIG Audit Liaison: 
U.S. Department of Homeland Security: 
Washington, DC 20528: 

August 7, 2009: 

Mr. William O. Jenkins, Jr. 
Director: 
Homeland Security and Justice Issues: 
U.S. Government Accountability Office: 
441 G Street, NW: 
Washington, DC 20548: 

Dear Mr. Jenkins: 

Subject: GAO 09-822, Emergency Communications: National Communications 
System Provides Programs for Priority Calling, but Planning for New 
Initiatives and Performance Measurement Could Be Strengthened: 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appreciates the opportunity 
to review and comment on the U.S. Government Accountability Office's 
(GAO) draft report referenced above. The GAO came to several 
conclusions with regard to the current state of the National 
Communications System (NCS). The Department agrees with some of these 
assertions and disagrees with others; we appreciate the opportunity to 
clarify. 

1. Recommendation: Develop an evaluation plan for its satellite pilot 
program that includes milestones for continued implementation and a 
methodology for assessing the results of the pilot before moving 
forward with program. 

DHS Response: Non-concur. The satellite pilot program is now complete. 
At the time of the audit, it was on hold. Though the capability and 
services offered by the pilot could be beneficial in catastrophic 
events, NCS believes other, readily available technologies can fulfill 
this requirement. During the course of the GAO discussion, the NCS 
realized the objectives and goals of the pilot were met. Specifically, 
it proved that Government Emergency Telecommunication Service (GETS) is 
interoperable with satellite communications, there is no priority to 
satellite mobiles, and that satellite phones have evolved to be similar 
in operation to cellular phones. Lessons learned are being developed to 
reflect NCS's analysis of the pilot. 

2. Recommendation: Develop program plans for the NS/EP Next Generation 
Network (NGN) initiative that outline an acquisition approach based on 
available technologies, realistic cost estimates, and that include 
mitigation plans to address identified challenges and risk. 

DHS Response: Concur. The NCS follows a structured approach in its 
design, development, and implementation of program plans. The NCS 
assesses industry trends to identify technology insertion for both 
program enhancements and mitigation plans. 

3. Recommendation: Follow best practices for strategic planning in 
finalizing the NCS strategic plan including identifying the resources 
needed to achieve its strategic goals and objectives and providing a 
description of the relationship between planned initiatives such as the 
NS/EP NGN and strategic goals. 

DHS Response: Concur. NCS has worked diligently to identify and acquire 
resources, and to map program initiatives to its own mission and the 
Department's broader strategic direction. All NCS activities are 
directly linked to the mission and the associated performance measures. 

4. Recommendation: Strengthen NCS's performance measurement efforts by 
(1) developing measures to cover all core program activities, (2) 
exploring opportunities to develop more outcome-oriented measures, (3) 
ensuring performance measure baselines are reliable and based upon past 
performance, and (4) improving the clarity of its call completion 
measure. 

DHS Response: Concur. NCS will continue to develop performance measures 
at all levels to monitor strategic progress and program success, align 
priorities, and link programs and operations to mission, resource 
priorities, and strategic objectives. 

In its review of subscriber database accuracy, DHS disagrees with the 
GAO's statements that NCS should be able to easily determine whether 
certain individuals serving in public positions were still entitled to 
be GETS subscribers. GAO expects NCS to terminate access for such 
individuals regardless of whether the subscriber's organization has 
notified NCS to do so. The NCS does, in counsel with agency Point of 
Contacts (POCs), perform updates to the subscriber database. NCS also 
reminds POCs at user conferences to keep databases updated, and has 
instituted quarterly reminders for subscribers' POCs. 

Finally, the report suggests that NCS's outreach efforts are limited to 
attendance at emergency management conferences, writing articles for 
emergency management and telecommunications publications, as well as 
deploying outreach coordinators to promote NCS's priority calling 
programs. In addition to these efforts, the NCS also meets with other 
governmental bodies, which should be reflected in this report. 

We appreciate the opportunity to comment on this draft report. 

Sincerely, 

Signed by: 

Jerald E. Levine: 
Director: 
Departmental GAO/OIG Liaison Office: 

[End of section] 

Appendix VII: GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments: 

GAO Contacts: 

William O. Jenkins, 202-512-8777 or jenkinswo@gao.gov: 

Staff Acknowledgments: 

In addition to the contact named above, Kirk Kiester, Assistant 
Director, and Candice Wright, Analyst-in-Charge, managed this review. 
Mark Abraham, Flavio Martinez, and Daniel Paepke made significant 
contributions to the work. David Alexander and Arthur James assisted 
with design, methodology, and data analysis. Sally Williamson provided 
assistance in report preparation. Pille Anvelt provided assistance with 
the report's graphics. 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] Telecommunications is defined as the electronic transmission of 
information, including voice and data, over a long distance for the 
purpose of communicating. 

[2] Data obtained from the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet 
Association, an industry trade association. 

[3] The NCS is both a national communications system that brings 
together the telecommunications assets owned or leased by the federal 
government that can meet the federal government's communications needs 
to support its national security and emergency preparedness activities 
as well as a management structure intended to ensure that a national 
telecommunications infrastructure is developed that is responsive to 
these needs. The management structure includes (1) an office within DHS 
that consists of the Office of the Manager, NCS, which includes the 
National Coordinating Center for Telecommunications, and (2) an 
interagency body of NCS member agencies, which is a consortium of 24 
federal departments and agencies. 

[4] NS/EP personnel include officials from across all levels of 
government including members of Congress, personnel in federal 
departments and agencies with continuity of government 
responsibilities, state governors, mayors, fire and police chiefs, and 
state and local government emergency managers. 

[5] NS/EP communications are telecommunications services used to 
maintain a constant state of readiness--24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 
365 days a year--or to respond to and manage any event or crisis that 
can (1) create injury or harm to the population and (2) threaten the 
NS/EP posture of the nation, among other things. 

[6] Nonprobability sampling is a method of sampling when nonstatistical 
judgment is used to select members of the sample, usually specific 
characteristics of the population as criteria. Results from 
nonprobability samples cannot be used to make inferences about a 
population, because in a nonprobability sample some elements of the 
population being studied have no chance or an unknown chance of being 
selected as part of the sample. 

[7] GAO, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1] 
(Washington, D.C.: November 1999). 

[8] GAO, Tax Administration: IRS Needs to Strengthen Its Approach for 
Evaluating the SRFMI Data-Sharing Pilot Program, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-45] (Washington, D.C.: November 7, 
2008); and Information Technology: DHS Needs to Fully Define and 
Implement Policies and Procedures for Effectively Managing Investments, 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-07-424] (Washington, D.C.: 
April 27, 2007). 

[9] PART consists of a standard series of questions intended to 
determine the strengths and weaknesses of federal programs. The PART 
questions cover four broad topics--(1) program purpose and design, (2) 
strategic planning, (3) program management, and (4) program results/ 
accountability. 

[10] Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, Pub. L. No. 103- 
62, 107 Stat. 285 (1993); and OMB, OMB Circular A-11, Part 6, 
Preparation, Submission, of Strategic Plans, Annual Performance Plans, 
and Annual Program Performance Reports (Washington, D.C.: Executive 
Office of the President, June 2008). For our past work, see, for 
example, GAO, Tax Administration: IRS Needs to Further Refine Its Tax 
Filing Season Performance Measures, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-03-143] (Washington, D.C.: November 22, 
2002); and Executive Guide: Effectively Implementing the Government 
Performance and Results Act, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/GGD-96-118] (Washington, D.C.: June 
1996). 

[11] A switch is a piece of equipment in a telephone carrier's central 
office facility that routes telephone signals between users and 
terminates connections when there is no longer a session to support. 

[12] Conventional voice services use traditional telephone networks 
(such as the PSTN), which are based on circuit switching technology. 
Instead of breaking a message into packets, circuit-switching uses a 
dedicated channel to transmit the voice connection. Once all channels 
are occupied, no further connections can be made until a channel 
becomes available. 

[13] IP is a set of standards that enable the transmission of 
information such as text, video, and voice across a global network of 
networks. These protocols are updated as the uses and processes for 
transmitting voice and data communications evolve. For more information 
on the ongoing transition to the next version of IP, see GAO, Internet 
Protocol Version 6: Federal Government in Early Stages of Transition 
and Key Challenges Remain, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-06-675] (Washington, D.C.: June 30, 
2006). 

[14] Pub. L. No. 107-296, § 201, 116 Stat. 2135, 2145-49 (2002). 

[15] The duties of the NCS and the NCS Manager are set forth in 
Executive Order No. 12,472, 49 Fed. Reg. 13,471 (April 3, 1984). 

[16] As of May 2009, the NSTAC is comprised of 22 industry leaders 
appointed by the President, usually chief executive officers, from 
telecommunications companies, network service providers, information 
technology firms, finance, and aerospace companies. 

[17] The National Response Framework, issued by DHS in 2008, is the 
policy document that is to guide how federal, state, local, and tribal 
governments, along with nongovernmental and private sector entities, 
are to collectively respond to and recover from all hazards, including 
catastrophic disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina. 

[18] Additionally, NCS is charged with facilitating the recovery of 
systems and applications in the event of a major Internet disruption 
caused by a cyber attack, among other things. 

[19] The National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP), first released 
by DHS in 2006 and updated in 2009, is intended to integrate activities 
and strategies for the protection and continuity of critical 
infrastructure and key resources, such as communications infrastructure 
and networks, and outlines partnerships and responsibilities across 
federal, state, local, tribal, and private agencies. For example, 
federal agencies identified as the Sector-Specific Agency--the lead 
federal agency for a given sector's protection--are responsible for, 
among other things, developing and implementing a Sector-Specific Plan 
to apply the NIPP to the unique characteristics and conditions of their 
sector. 

[20] NCS, through the NCC, manages the Telecommunications Service 
Priority program--a program that provides priority provisioning and 
restoration of telecommunications services that support emergency 
operations facilities for certain federal, state, and tribal 
governments, and other entities. For more information about this 
program, see appendix III. 

[21] Priority calling is provided through special enhancements embedded 
in the PSTN and wireless networks to identify calls made by authorized 
users as a high priority. These enhancements automatically place the 
call higher in the queue and increase the probability that the call 
will be successfully completed over other calls made through 
traditional means. 

[22] GETS is designed to support low-speed data transmissions via 
facsimile machines or secure telephone equipment. Such data 
transmissions do not exceed 56 kilobytes which is equivalent to the 
speed for dial-up modems. 

[23] NCS describes a successful connection when using GETS as one in 
which the calling party gets (1) an answer by the called party, (2) a 
ring but no answer, or (3) a traditional busy signal. 

[24] Early in the GETS program, the number of calls successfully 
completed during the time immediately following emergency events 
varied, but as the program has matured, GETS has increasingly achieved 
or surpassed its intention to complete 90 percent of calls. See 
appendix IV for the number of calls completed during past emergency 
events since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. 

[25] Most toll-free numbers translate to a traditional 10-digit toll 
number. As such, NCS encourages GETS subscribers to obtain the regular 
10-digit toll number for organizations that they may need to coordinate 
with during emergencies. NCS defines international calls as those that 
occur outside the United States, Canada, and parts of the Caribbean. 
For such calls, international calling privileges are applied to a GETS 
card only upon request and priority treatment is limited to US 
telephone networks. For example, for an outbound international call, 
once the call leaves US telephone networks, it will no longer receive 
priority treatment. 

[26] For GETS calls made from, to, or between international locations, 
prevailing international calling rates apply. 

[27] WPS functionality can also work in wireless devices such as a 
Blackberry provided the device has voice communications capability. 

[28] WPS can be used to place calls from a cell phone to another cell 
phone or a wireline telephone device. 

[29] NCS programs are not for immediate, on-site emergency response, 
and are therefore not geared toward first responders, such as police, 
fire fighters, emergency medical personnel, and others who are among 
the first on the scene of an emergency. 

[30] Nonfederal subscribers must be sponsored by the NCS or one of the 
24 NCS member agencies. 

[31] Population attack warning includes threat assessments and warnings 
of potential nuclear attacks, among other things, within the United 
States. 

[32] The process NCS used to establish these subscriber goals is 
discussed later in the report. 

[33] The regional outreach coordinators are not NCS staff but rather 
part-time staff hired by NCS's contractor--Computer Sciences 
Corporation. Currently, there are six regional outreach coordinators. 

[34] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1]. 

[35] According to NCS, approximately 4 percent of the GETS and WPS 
service requests are denied because the requesting organization does 
not have a function that is clearly related to NS/EP and most often are 
industry organizations that provide services that are only tangentially 
related to NS/EP functions. 

[36] According to NCS guidance, access should be limited to staff who 
have a clearly defined NS/EP duty. 

[37] In addition to the POC's responsibilities to familiarize 
subscribers, NCS has incorporated priority calling programs in several 
training or preparedness exercises that it conducts or participates in 
with the goal of keeping subscriber's knowledge of the services current 
because of concerns that subscribers may not be readily prepared to 
effectively use GETS and WPS during an emergency. 

[38] This group of users is known as a talkgroup. The radio users are 
structured into talkgroups so that they can share calls and messages as 
a group. Satellite radio talkgroups allow authorized NS/EP users to 
participate in a nationwide two-way satellite communications whereby 
each group member can either listen to or join in the conversation 
taking place over the talkgroup. 

[39] The six participating sites include the operations centers 
operated by (1) NCS, (2) the three major nationwide carriers (AT&T, 
Sprint, and Verizon), and (3) NCS's contractors that support GETS and 
WPS (Computer Sciences Corporation and Science Applications 
International Corporation). 

[40] Executive Order 12,472, which outlines the responsibilities of the 
NCS as it relates to NS/EP communications, states that NCS shall 
develop for consideration a recommended evolutionary telecommunications 
architecture designed to meet the current and future NS/EP 
telecommunications requirements and shall ensure that current and 
future telecommunications standards are utilized as the basis for the 
federal telecommunications standards. 

[41] According to industry experts, current and next-generation 
networks will operate in parallel until the circuit-based portion of 
the PSTN is phased out. 

[42] For the purposes of this report, we refer to NCS's efforts to plan 
for and implement these NS/EP voice and data services on the next- 
generation networks as the NS/EP NGN. 

[43] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-06-672]. 

[44] National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, Next 
Generation Networks Task Force Report, March 28, 2006. 

[45] The international standards bodies involved in this effort include 
the Alliance for Telecommunications Solutions, The European 
Telecommunications Standards Institute's Telecoms and Internet 
Converged Services and Protocols for Advanced Networks, International 
Telecommunication Union-Telecommunication Standardization Sector, The 
Internet Engineering Task Force, and The Third Generation Partnership 
Project. 

[46] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-07-424]; Department of 
Homeland Security: Billions Invested in Major Programs Lack Appropriate 
Oversight, GAO-09-29 (Washington, D.C.: November 18, 2008); and Defense 
Acquisitions: Restructured JTRS Program Reduces Risk, but Significant 
Challenges Remain, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-06-955] 
(Washington, D.C.: September 2006). 

[47] In fiscal year 2008, DHS requested about $52 million for the NS/EP 
NGN initiative--a 270 percent increase over the $14 million provided in 
fiscal year 2007. See, H.R. Rep. No. 110-181, at 85 (2007) and S. Rep. 
No. 110-84, at 85-86 (2007). 

[48] Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-161, 121 
Stat. 1844 (Dec. 26, 2007). See also, House Appropriations Committee 
Print for the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008. 

[49] H.R. Rep. No. 110-181, at 85 (2007). 

[50] H.R. Rep. No. 110-862, at 97, 100 (2008). 

[51] Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2009, Pub. L. 
No. 110-329, 122 Stat. 3652, 3668 (2008) enacted as Division D of the 
Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing 
Appropriations Act, 2009, Pub. L. No. 110-329, 122 Stat. 3574. 

[52] Although Congress did not set a deadline for DHS to submit the 
expenditure plan, DHS officials told us they planned to submit the plan 
by January 2009 to avoid delays in moving forward with planned 
activities. 

[53] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-29] and [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-06-955]. 

[54] GAO, Critical Infrastructure Protection: Further Efforts Needed to 
Integrate Planning for and Response to Disruptions on Converged Voice 
and Data Networks, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-607] 
(Washington, D.C.: June 26, 2008). The NCS strategic plan is to be part 
of an overarching strategy for all the entities that comprise the 
Office of Cyber Security and Communications that also includes the 
National Cyber Security Division and Office of Emergency 
Communications. 

[55] GAO, Executive Guide: Effectively Implementing the Government 
Performance and Results Act, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/GGD-96-118] (Washington, D.C.: June 
1996). 

[56] Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 and OMB Circular A- 
11provide guidance in this instance since NCS's strategic plan is not 
an agency-wide strategic plan. 

[57] GAO, Managing for Results: Critical Issues for Improving Federal 
Agencies' Strategic Plans, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/GGD-97-180] (Washington, D.C.: 
September 16, 1997). 

[58] GAO, Homeland Security: Guidance and Standards are Needed for 
Measuring the Effectiveness of Agencies' Facility Protection Efforts, 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-06-612] (Washington, D.C.: 
May 31, 2006). 

[59] GAO, Tax Administration: IRS Needs to Further Refine Its Tax 
Filing Season Performance Measures, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-03-143] (Washington, D.C.: November 22, 
2002); and OMB, Guide to the Program Assessment Rating Tool 
(Washington, D.C., January 2008). 

[60] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-03-143]. 

[61] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-06-612]. 

[62] OMB defines an efficiency measure as one that captures a program's 
ability to carry out its activities and achieve results (an outcome or 
output) relative to resources (an input such as cost). 

[63] OMB, Guide to the Program Assessment Rating Tool. 

[64] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/GGD-96-118], and OMB, 
Guide to the Program Assessment Rating Tool. 

[65] OMB, Guide to the Program Assessment Rating Tool. 

[66] Federal continuity coordinators as defined in the National 
Continuity Policy are staff designated within federal departments and 
agencies, at the Assistant Secretary level, to coordinate their 
agency's continuity of operations requirements which includes the 
availability of critical communications capabilities, among other 
things. Because this performance measure was introduced in fiscal year 
2008, we could not evaluate how useful this measure has been in gauging 
progress over time. 

[67] OMB, Guide to the Program Assessment Rating Tool. 

[68] GAO, Agency Performance Plans, Examples of Practices That Can 
Improve Usefulness to Decisionmakers, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/GGD-AIMD-99-69] (Washington, D.C.: 
February 26, 1999); and [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/GGD-96-18]. 

[69] When a WPS user attempts to place a call, the call can be dropped--
or incomplete--at several stages. The manner in which wireless carriers 
are currently able to identify incomplete calls occurs only for calls 
that have reached the mobile switching center. However, those WPS calls 
that have reached the base station, but failed to reach the mobile 
switching center, would not be captured as an incomplete call. 

[70] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-03-143]. 

[71] Congressional Research Service, John Moteff, Computer Security: A 
Summary of Selected Federal Laws, Executive Orders, and Presidential 
Directives, RL32357 (Apr. 16, 2004). 

[72] On May 26, 2009, the President announced the full integration of 
White House staff supporting national security and homeland security. 

[73] Executive Order No. 12,472, 49 Fed. Reg. 13,471 (April 3, 1984). 

[74] Pub. L. No. 107-296, § 201, 116 Stat. 2135, 2145-49 (2002). 

[75] These entities include the Department of State (DOS), the Central 
Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), 
the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of 
Defense (DOD), the Joint Staff (JS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), 
the General Services Administration (GSA), the Department of the 
Interior (DOI), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration 
(NASA), the Department of Agriculture (DOA), the Nuclear Regulatory 
Commission (NRC), the Department of Commerce (DOC), the National 
Security Agency (NSA), the Department of Health and Human Services 
(DHHS), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration 
(NTIA), Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the 
Department of Transportation (DOT), the United States Postal Service 
(USPS), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Federal Reserve Board 
(FRB), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the FCC, and DHS. 

[76] As of May 2009, the NSTAC is comprised of representatives from the 
following companies: AT&T, Bank of America, Computer Sciences 
Corporation, Boeing Company, Harris Corporation, Intelsat General, 
Juniper Networks, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Motorola, National Cable 
and Telecommunications Association, Nortel, Qwest, Raytheon Company, 
Rockwell Collins, Science Applications International Corporation, 
Telcordia Technologies, Teledesic, Tyco Electronics, United States 
Telecom Association, Verisign, and Verizon. 

[77] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-06-672]. 

[78] The President's National Security Telecommunications Advisory 
Committee, Next Generation Network Task Force Report, (March 28, 2006). 

[79] These subgroups may be composed, in whole or in part, of 
individuals who are not members of the NSTAC. 

[80] PART consists of a standard series of questions intended to 
determine the strengths and weaknesses of federal programs. The PART 
questions cover four broad topics--(1) program purpose and design, (2) 
strategic planning, (3) program management, and (4) program results/ 
accountability. 

[81] In total, we interviewed NS/EP officials from 37 state and local 
agencies. State interviews were held with emergency management agencies 
and/or homeland security departments and covered the following states: 
Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, 
Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Virginia, 
and Wyoming. Local interviews were held with local emergency management 
agencies, police and fire departments, and other entities with NS/EP 
responsibilities. Localities we covered included: City of Sacramento, 
County of Sacramento, County of Santa Clara, County of San Diego, City 
of San Diego Lee County, Broward County, Miami-Dade County, Palm Beach 
County, City of Fort Lauderdale, City of Boynton Beach, City of New 
York, and the City of New Orleans. 

[82] GAO, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1] 
(Washington, D.C.: November 1999). 

[83] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-45] and [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-07-424. 

[84] See for example, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-03-143] and [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/GGD-96-118]. 

[85] Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, Pub. L. No. 103- 
62, 107 Stat. 285 (1993); and OMB, OMB Circular A-11, Part 6, 
Preparation, Submission, of Strategic Plans, Annual Performance Plans, 
and Annual Program Performance Reports (Washington, D.C.: Executive 
Office of the President, June 2008). 

[86] Miscellaneous Rules Relating to Common Carriers: 
Telecommunications Service Priority (TSP) System for National Security 
Emergency Preparedness (NSEP), 47 C.F.R. pt. 64, App. A. Under the 
appendix, service vendors are defined as any person, association, 
partnership, corporation, organization, or other entity (including 
common carriers and government organizations) that offer to supply any 
telecommunications equipment, facilities, or services (including 
customer premises equipment and wiring) or combination thereof and the 
term includes resale carriers, prime contractors, subcontractors, and 
interconnecting carriers. 

[87] The fees charged may differ depending on the service provider and 
are separate from any charges related to the installation or repair of 
circuits following an emergency event. 

[88] Independent Panel Reviewing the Impact of Hurricane Katrina on 
Communications Networks, Report and Recommendations to the Federal 
Communications Commission, (Washington D.C., June 12, 2006). 

[89] DHS defines credentialing as the administrative process for 
validating personnel qualifications and providing authorization to 
perform specific functions in response to an emergency or disaster. 

[90] At that time, GETS was in the early stages of deployment and had 
not yet achieved initial or full operating capability. 

[91] 47 C. F. R. pt. 64, App. B. 

[End of section] 

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