Given the slow progress of interoperable public-safety communications, it may be time for the federal government to play a more active role in the sector--traditionally dominated by local and state agencies—said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas).

Barton made his statements last week during a House Commerce subcommittee hearing on public-safety interoperability that included testimony from John Kneuer, administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Barton said that elected officials “on both sides of the aisle” are disappointed that more progress has not been made in the area of interoperability in the five years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Is it time to cut the Gordian knot and have a federalized, pre-emptive, national interoperability standard of communication, both in terms of spectrum and in terms of equipment, so we can end this foolishness that—every time we have a large regional emergency—we find out that various law-enforcement and emergency-response teams can’t communicate, for whatever reason?” Barton said.

Kneuer explained that the DHS recently identified the gaps in interoperability across the country, which he believes is an important step in addressing the issue. However, he noted that there are limitations on how fast the problem can be resolved.

“We need to remain mindful that these are—at their core—local infrastructure that’s put in place,” Kneuer said.

Low on time, Barton cut Kneuer short, saying that such an explanation “ain’t much of an excuse today.”

“I guarantee you, if we have another hurricane on the Gulf Coast, a big flood in the Midwest or an earthquake in California, we’re going to find out that the locals can’t communicate, and they’re going to blame Congress or the President,” Barton said.

“Mr. Chairman [Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)], you have shown yourself to be a man of decisiveness and action, and I am willing—on this issue—to be just as decisive and just as action-oriented as you are, if that’s the majority’s wish … I don’t believe in federal pre-emption, but—every now and then—it may be necessary, and this may be one of those times.”