Burns, Clinton seek $42 million for PSAPs
Sens. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) have submitted two requests asking that $42 million in the 2007 federal budget be earmarked to fund improvements to public-safety answering points (PSAPs).
The funding request is less than 20% of the $250 million authorized in the ENHANCE 911 Act of 2004 championed by Burns and Clinton. Although the act authorized $1.25 billion over five years for matching grants that public-safety entities could use to improve their 911 communications systems, no money has been appropriated to fund the program.
“It’s a political reality, given the budget crunch that we’re under right now,” said Patrick Halley, government affairs director for the National Emergency Number Association. “It’s pretty clear that the likelihood of full funding for this act is extremely minimal.”
In a letter to leaders of the Senate Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary subcommittee, Clinton and Burns asked for funding to establish the Implementation and Coordination Office (ICO) created in the Enhance 911 Act and jumpstart the grant program.
“This year, we request that this program be funded at the level of $21 million, which we believe will be an amount adequate to ensure the launch of the ICO and begin the process of issuing grants to local and state governments in desperate need of upgrading their 911 call centers,” the letter states.
Halley said Burns and Clinton made another $21 million request to the Senate Transportation Committee, so the total funding request is $42 million. Identical funding requests proposals are expected in the House of Representatives, but that doesn’t guarantee that PSAPs will see any additional money, he said.
“We came from both sides last year, and we didn’t get any [funding],” Halley said.
Some public-safety officials expressed hope that revenues derived from the 700 MHz auction would help offset the lack of funds provided in annual federal budgets, but the law signed by President Bush in January included just $43.5 million for E-911 upgrades. Many of those who will benefit from the law—including public safety—are allowed to borrow money against expected revenue generated by the 700 MHz auction, but that is not the case for the E-911 portion, which likely won’t be available to PSAPs until at least late 2008, Halley said.
As a result, passage of the $42 million requests is especially important for PSAPs that need funding immediately, Halley said.
“I get calls sometimes from PSAPs and talk to them about their E-911 progress, and they tell me they simply do not have the funding and, given the structure in their state, they will never have E-911 for wireless. That’s what this program is designed to fix,” he said. “I think that’s enough money to put a dent in a lot of those areas that are really struggling to have the funding.”