LONG BEACH, Calif.--When President George Bush signed telecom legislation in December 2004 that authorized $250 million annually for the next five years to fund public-safety answering point upgrades and create a national coordination office, the PSAP community knew Congress wouldn’t appropriate the full amount. What they didn’t know was just how little they would be getting over the next couple of years.

Speaking yesterday during a panel discussion at the National Emergency Number Association conference, Ray Fitzgerald, legislative aide to Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), said the goal is to get $3 million to $8 million this year “just to get things started,” which likely will take the form of establishing the national coordination office. Shimkus co-chairs the Congressional E911 Caucus--with Sens. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Rep, Anna Eshoo (R-Calif.)--which is working to advance enhanced 911 services nationwide.

Fitzgerald said the timing of the law’s passage is the primary culprit. “It was a little too late to get it into this year’s budget cycle,” he said.

But he added that the most PSAPs could expect next year is $20 million, which Fitzgerald said “would be enough to get the grants going.” He said the current federal budget crunch is tightening the flow of money, plus the PSAP initiative is just one of many. “There’s a lot of competition for appropriations right now,” Fitzgerald said.

The PSAP community put on a brave face. Though disappointed, Greg Rohde, executive director of the E911 Institute, a not-for-profit organization that supports the Congressional E911 Caucus in promoting E911 nationwide, tried to put the news in perspective. “The game is that when you pass a bill, you put in a high number and then go back to get funding,” he said. “The reality right now is that the federal budget is a complete mess and getting federal funding is now [more difficult]. But the Caucus is working hard at it and there are several steps to go. We’re hoping that we’ll at least get enough to get things started.”

Patrick Halley, NENA’s governmental affairs director, agreed with the notion that the crucial aspect is getting the gears turning. “The key is getting the coordination office established. Then we can build from there,” he said. “This is still a win. It’s just not as big a win.”

Halley said NENA and its members also are disappointed by the current situation, but like Rohde, he was pragmatic.

“We’d clearly rather have the $250 million, but we understand the budget situation right now, and we figured that most likely we wouldn’t get full funding,” he said.

Halley called on the NENA membership to be more active in the cause. “We need our members and 911 leaders around the country to weigh in and tell our story to Congress,” he said.