Homeland Security Funding Update: Addressing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations
Thursday, September 15, 2011
By Vince Siragusa
In recognition of the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has recently released its progress report highlighting the achievements that the Department and its many partners have made in carrying out the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. Created in late 2002, this Commission was chartered to prepare a complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 attacks and to provide recommendations intended to strengthen our nation’s well-being and defense from future attacks. Additional information on this August 2004 report is available at www.9-11commission.gov/report/index.htm.
In response to those many suggestions, DHS cites a number of accomplishments (www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/implementing-9-11-commission-report-progress-2011.pdf) that inevitably contribute to our quest for improved safety and security. Included in those actions, we find the creation of dozens of fusion centers throughout the country, increased airport and maritime port security, and greater communication and information sharing with other nations. In spite of these and many other achievements over the last decade, we’ve been remiss in addressing one of the largest and perhaps most conspicuous of the Commission’s calls to action: “Providing for the expedited and increased assignment of radio spectrum for public safety purposes.”
With billions of dollars in dedicated grant funding having already come to state and local governments for their interoperability efforts, DHS has successfully implemented many strategies helping to transform and strengthen interoperable communications across the country. Administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in collaboration with DHS, the 2007 Public Safety Interoperable Communication Program (PSIC) alone offered nearly $1 billion in grant funding for the acquisition and deployment of equipment intended to increase emergency communications interoperability.
Along the same lines, the continuous development and deployment of various new technologies has helped arm emergency responders with the solutions necessary to most effectively communicate with one another. And while local and regional success stories are common, the framework for the deployment of a nationwide, wireless broadband network for public safety interoperable communications has kept the nation’s first responders dreaming of what could be. That goal may have the possibility of becoming a reality in the upcoming weeks.
Introduced by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act (S.911) promises to provide public safety with an additional 10 megahertz of spectrum known as the “D-Block” to support a national, interoperable wireless broadband network for the nation’s first responders at no cost to those entities.
A significant milestone has already been achieved. By a June vote of 21-4, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation approved the S.911 SPECTRUM Act allowing it to move forward toward a vote in the full Senate.
In response to this promising vote, Senator Rockefeller said, “I am glad that we have cleared this bill out of the Committee, and I intend to have conversations with leadership immediately about timing for a vote by the full Senate. I strongly encourage my colleagues in the House to also move forward with this legislation so that we can sign it into law by September, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”
As of the date of this article, with Congress in the midst of a five-week summer recess, it remains unlikely that the bill will be voted on prior to September 11th. Still, there is ever-growing optimism and appreciation of what this Act will do for the country and for the various first responder organizations responsible for our collective safety.