The federal government recently decided to spend $700 billion to bail Wall Street out of the financial crisis it largely created.

That troubles me.

It’s not because I think the effort is misguided. Frankly, I don’t know whether spending seven hundred thousand million dollars is a good idea, as I am not a financier or an economist. I am putting my trust in the hands of those who do know about this stuff. Based on what I’ve read, the federal government believes we eventually will see a return on this investment. Maybe, maybe not. But staving off economic collapse and potentially a depression seems like the way to go, and if it’s going to take seven mega-large to get it done, well, so be it.

What does trouble me is how easy it was for the feds to find the money. We keep hearing that there’s no money in the coffers for public-safety answering point upgrades, even though that would only cost a few billion. We hear that spending $20 billion—over a 10-year period—on a nationwide wireless broadband network for first responders is completely out of the question. Yet our elected officials had no trouble finding $700 billion for the bailout in what most believe is a very tough economy. And we spend roughly $12 billion per month on the war in Iraq.

For everyone reaching for their keyboards right now, note that the above is not a commentary on whether the war is justified—I’ll leave that to the political pundits—but rather further illustration that money can be found for just about anything, at just about any time, at just about any cost, as long as our lawmakers and policymakers are behind the cause.

Perhaps that’s the aspect that’s most troubling. Somehow, the case hasn’t been made that upgrading public-safety communications networks and systems is vital enough to justify the expense. I wonder why. The public-safety sector has working on its behalf an army of intelligent, prepared, articulate and passionate professionals who tirelessly and repeatedly take the message to Capitol Hill. But they’re not being heard—at least not to the degree needed to get Congress to reach for its checkbook.

I wonder what it will take. Perhaps the needless death of a congressman’s spouse or child who couldn’t be located in time because the closest PSAP lacked the technology needed to process the data transmitted from their wireless phone. Perhaps it will take a crisis of mass proportion, such as the detonation of a dirty bomb in a city center during rush hour.

It shouldn’t. All too often, government at all levels reacts to crises as opposed to heading them off. Congress should put an end to the stonewalling and all of the rhetoric about public-private partnerships being the only way to transform antiquated legacy networks so they are capable of handling the exciting new applications that exist today and will emerge tomorrow—applications that will help first responders perform their tasks better and keep them safer.

There’s another, better way. Congress needs to pull its checkbook out of the drawer and start writing. We know it has the money.

E-mail me at glenn.bischoff@penton.com.