Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. (D. N.J.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee’s emergency preparedness, response, and communications subcommittee, introduced legislation today to preserve state interoperability governance structures. “In recent years, States could rely on the Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant Program to support their Statewide Interoperability Coordinators (SWIC) and other communications governance structures,” said Rep. Payne said in opening remarks at a hearing today on interoperable communications. “But that program has been eliminated. And other sources for Federal support are scarce particularly since the State Homeland Security Grant Program and the Urban Area Security Initiative are not funded at the levels they once were.”
Rep. Payne added, “When I joined this panel last year, I was surprised to learn that my home state of New Jersey did not have a SWIC. Now, I understand that a SWIC has been named, but it is one of many hats worn by this official. The challenge of funding SWIC is not unique to New Jersey. Other States are facing the same funding challenge and, as a result, there is a very real risk that important governance structures that have taken over a decade to build will be abandoned. That is why, today, I am introducing the Statewide Interoperable Communications Enhancement Act, or the SWIC Enhancement Act.”
The measure would require any state applying for State Homeland Security Grant Program funds to certify that it has a SWIC appointed by the governor. Any state that applies for funds and does not have a SWIC appointed by the governor it must certify that SWIC functions are being performed. The full committee’s ranking member, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D., Miss.), said in a statement that he supports Mr. Payne’s legislation.
During today’s hearing, Mark Grubb, director of the Delaware Division of Communications and chairman of the National Council of Statewide Interoperability Coordinators, said that many states used Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant Program funds to support SWICs. “With IECGP funding now expired, many States are struggling to continue to fund the SWIC position and even keep the interoperability body operating,” he said. He urged Congress to authorize funding for SWICs and states to continue to fund the positions and said they “must be placed high enough within the State structure.” Otherwise, he said, “they are pushed under the table for the most part.”
Today’s hearing also focused on the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) and the Office of Emergency Communications at the Department of Homeland Security. Regarding FirstNet, acting General Manager TJ Kennedy cited progress that has been made in the past year, including consultation with states and work on a comprehensive network request for proposal (RFP). “We are gaining momentum each day,” he said.
In response to a question from Rep. Susan W. Brooks (R., Ind.), the subcommittee’s chairman, Mr. Kennedy said that FirstNet has completed eight initial state consultations with one more to go this year. He added that 32 states have returned their checklists. Mr. Kennedy also indicated as he often does that the federal government’s hiring system makes it difficult to bring key staff on board. He said FirstNet is still working with the Office of Personnel Management to get “direct hiring authority.”
Mr. Grubb, who is Delaware’s single point of contact for FirstNet, suggested that FirstNet’s progress to date has been “a little bit slow.” But he also noted the huge job it faces, adding, “It’s astronomical.”
OEC Director Ron Hewitt touted the recent release of DHS’s updated National Emergency Communications Plan (TRDaily, Nov. 12), which drew praise from Rep. Brooks. He also noted recent interoperable communications successes, including after last year’s Boston Marathon bombings.
Ms. Brooks asked Mr. Hewitt about rumors that DHS plans to move OEC from the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which she said is opposed by some in the public safety community. Mr. Hewitt replied that DHS is looking for ways “to improve mission delivery” but that no decisions have been made concerning NPPD or OEC changes, adding that DHS officials would consult with Congress before taking any action.
“Right answer on consultation,” Ms. Brooks replied. She added that since OEC has “worked so well,” such discussions would be important “prior to any reorganization.”
Rep. Payne also urged the Senate to pass during the lame-duck session HR 4289, the DHS Interoperable Communications Act, which the House passed by voice vote earlier this year (TRDaily, July 9). It would require DHS’s under secretary-management to take actions to ensure DHS components have interoperable communications.
Ms. Brooks concluded the hearing by saying that “we have come a long way since 9/11” on interoperable communications, “but we obviously … have a long way to go.”- Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org
STATE, LOCAL GROUPS URGE VOTE
ON MFA, TEMPORARY ITFA EXTENSION
Groups representing state and local government officials today urged congressional leaders to pass a temporary extension of the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA) in combination with the Marketplace Fairness Act to “level the playing field between online and Main Street retailers.”
The National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, Council of State Governments, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, United States Conference of Mayors, and International City/County Management Association raised their concerns in a joint letter sent today to congressional leaders in both parties.
They wrote that they were “gravely disappointed” by reports that Congress was considering a vote on a permanent extension of the ITFA, which bars state and local Internet access taxes and multiple taxes on electronic commerce, but not planning a vote on the MFA, which would enable states and localities to collect sales taxes on online commerce.
“MFA would level the playing field between online and Main Street retailers so that competition, not a tax loophole, determines who succeeds in the marketplace,” they wrote. “It requires states to simplify their sales taxes and ease compliance in return for the authority to collect more than $23 billion in taxes that are already owed. This revenue could be used to reduce other taxes and invest in infrastructure improvements, education advancements and public safety.”
The ITFA was designed to “jump-start Internet commerce by temporarily suspending taxes on Internet access services,” the state and local officials wrote. “Out of respect for states and federalism, it was to last only two years while keeping all existing taxes. A temporary extension of ITFA would preserve the balance of the original bill. A permanent moratorium would eliminate existing revenues and trample our most basic principles of federalism by indefinitely prohibiting states’ authority to set tax policy.”
The groups called for prompt action, noting that the MFA passed the Senate last year with “broad bipartisan support” and the ITFA is set to expire December 11. “The time has come for Congress to stop stalling and join with state and local officials to promote the continued growth of electronic commerce, ensure fair competition and preserve state and local authority,” they wrote. – Brian Hammond, email@example.com