Interoperable communications funding of $1 billion should be distributed to public-safety agencies in accordance with established grant procedures used by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), national public-safety representatives said in a recent letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce official.

Under a law passed in December, the Department of Commerce is required to award $1 billion in interoperability grants by Sept. 30. While public-safety officials have applauded the decision by Congress to make the $1 billion in funding available immediately—instead of waiting for the completion of the 700 MHz auction, which will provide the revenue source for the money—they have expressed concern about the disbursement process.

A consortium of national public-safety agencies expressed the belief that the Commerce Department “should not attempt to create a new grant program concept”—instead, utilize the existing DHS/SAFECOM grant guidance—in a letter to John Kneuer, the Department of Commerce’s assistant secretary for communications and information.

“The main thrusts of the letter are to offer him any assistance to him, to encourage him to get it done and to do it in a way that is consistent with the other grants that have been approved for improving public safety communications, so we don’t have another program that’s contrary to what’s going on,” said Harlin McEwen, communications and technology committee chairman of the International Chiefs of Police (IACP).

In addition to the IACP, the letter was signed by leaders with the following organizations: the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, the Congressional Fire Services Institute, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, the National Association of Counties and the National Sheriffs’ Association.

McEwen declined to speculate when the Department of Commerce would decide on guidelines for the interoperability grants but noted that the money must be awarded in less than nine months.

“I don’t believe they [Commerce Department officials] have a significant disagreement with what we’ve said in the letter,” McEwen said. “He [Kneuer] has acknowledged the letter and has said he wants to work with state and local organizations to make this happen.”