An FCC decision no one can argue with
We don’t often write columns about people. In fact, I am hard-pressed at the moment to think of the last one we might have done; it’s possible we’ve never done one. There’s really no hard-and-fast rule on this — it’s really a function of having too many other things to write about. Today, however, I’m going to share a few thoughts about Patrick Halley, the National Emergency Number Association’s government affairs director.
The seed for this column was planted last week at NENA’s annual conference in Indianapolis. I had just finished an interview with Steve O’Conor, the association’s new president, and Craig Whittington, who was completing his term. It was announced during the conference that Halley would be leaving NENA to take a job with the FCC’s wireline competition bureau. Whittington suggested that I write something about that. So here we are.
I decided to do so because Halley happens to be one of my favorite people. There are numerous reasons for this. First, he’s what we call a go-to source — the best kind. These are the sources who not only answer the phone when a reporter calls; they also know what they’re talking about and generally speak frankly.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: A month or so ago, I was writing something and called Halley for a comment. Normally he calls back within an hour or two, but this time he didn’t. Early the next morning, with my deadline fast approaching, I called him again. I didn’t want to wake him up — but I really needed that quote. When he answered I could tell that he was groggy. He said it was because he had been up very late studying for a law-school exam — he recently graduated, second in his class, from Catholic University in Washington. Despite the early hour and his fatigue — plus the fact he was trying to feed his young son breakfast — he gave me a cogent perspective that was exactly what I needed. I sort of felt bad — at least as bad as a reporter on deadline can feel — and said so. Halley’s response was, “Why? You’re just doing your job.” How do you not love a guy like that?
Halley became one of my favorites early on, because he’s also the kind of source who stands by what he says. Believe me, that’s unusual. Whenever a source says something that backfires, the usual response is to allege that the reporter misquoted or quoted out of context. But that’s not Halley’s style. I can still remember an episode that occurred shortly after he joined NENA. I quoted him on something or other — I can’t remember exactly what. But I do remember that the quote wasn’t particularly inflammatory. Apparently, a few people on Capitol Hill had a different viewpoint. I saw him the next day, and he told me about the pain he had experienced over that quote — but he stood by it.
I spoke yesterday at some length with Whittington, O’Conor and Brian Fontes, NENA’s CEO, yesterday about Halley. They all used similar adjectives to describe him: passionate, dedicated, enthusiastic, tireless, determined — I could go on and on. “I knew the FCC was after him,” Fontes said. “They’re fortunate to be getting him. He’ll be missed.”
Each shared a story or two about Halley. My favorite concerns the time Halley picked up Whittington at the Baltimore airport to drive the two of them to a meeting. They were running late. Whittington, who lives in Greensboro, N.C., found the traffic to be intimidating. I couldn’t blame him for that. I live in Chicago — which experiences traffic that I am certain Dante identified as one of the nine levels of hell — and I’m intimidated by Washington’s traffic. Being from the South, NASCAR is something with which Whittington is familiar, and he told me that Jimmie Johnson has nothing on Halley, who delivered them to the meeting on time. “He simply wasn’t going to let us be late,” Whittington said. Recall that determination is one of the adjectives used to describe Halley. One might as well add resourceful to the list.
Whittington also spoke of the work Halley has done over his five-year tenure on the “911 Goes to Washington” program, which involves bringing officials from public-safety answering points across the country to Washington to discuss the 911 sector’s most pressing issues with members of Congress and their staffs. (See “New legislation includes next-gen 911 language” for a recent take on the “911 Goes to Washington” program.) For the most part, those who descend on the nation’s capital are completely unfamiliar with the ways of Capitol Hill — or the language spoken there. According to Whittington, that can be very intimidating, but Halley was able to make it far less so.
“He took the scary out of it,” Whittington said. “He opened doors. He taught us how to understand the system.”
Whittington further described Halley as “a powerful young man,” a notion with which O’Conor wholeheartedly agreed.
“The greatest honor that can be bestowed on anyone is to use what they have written in proposed legislation, orders or regulations,” he said. “Much of what Patrick has written on our behalf, we see very similar language that appears as the product of the FCC and congressional committees.”
Fontes described Halley as his “soul mate.” I immediately understood what he meant, because I feel the same way about UC senior writer Donny Jackson, whom I’ve worked alongside for nearly a decade now. I’ve often said that Jackson and I have a “Batman-and-Robin” relationship, and I think Fontes would describe his relationship with Halley in the same manner. It is easy for me to see in my mind’s eye the dynamic duo of Fontes and Halley scurrying about Capitol Hill, working on behalf of the 911 sector, fighting for justice. It’s a nice image.
Halley had succeeded Steve Seitz in the role of government relations director and de facto spokesperson for NENA. Seitz was prime cut in his own regard. Whittington recalled his reaction when the transition occurred: “How will this kid fill Steve’s shoes?” But the kid not only filled them, he greatly enlarged the footprint. Now Whittington says, “I wish we had a thousand just like him.”
NENA would be quite fortunate to find just one.
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