House passes bill with $500 million in NG911 funding that coalition describes as ‘woefully inadequate’
House lawmakers today passed a $2.2 trillion reconciliation bill that calls for $500 million to support next-generation 911 (NG911) deployments, but the legislation is expected to face significant challenges in the Senate, and a coalition of public-safety associations described the NG911 funding level as “woefully inadequate.”
House members voted 220-213 in favor of the massive spending plan—reportedly scored by the Congressional Budget Office as a $2.2 trillion measure, rather than a $1.85 trillion package claimed previously—that is central to President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better initiative.
Friday’s House vote generally followed party lines, with only one Democrat opposing the bill. The legislation is expected to be considered in December by the Senate, where Gateway sources indicate it will face myriad challenges and could be changed, if the Senate approves a reconciliation proposal at all.
If changes are made, the Public Safety Next Generation 911 Coalition—a group that was established last year to advocate for federal NG911 funding—would like to see the current level of NG911 funding in the reconciliation bill increase by 30 times, the coalition said in a letter to Republican and Democrat leaders of the House and Senate.
“While the version of the Build Back Better Act that passed the House of Representatives today includes helpful language regarding NG9-1-1, the funding level is woefully inadequate to achieve meaningful nationwide implementation,” according to the coalition letter. “The Coalition’s funding request has bipartisan support. The amount needed—$15 billion—is based on the results of a federal study required by Congress and to meet the growing cybersecurity threats facing public-safety agencies.
“Absent adequate federal funding, public-safety agencies will be left with overly costly, incomplete, and non-interoperable solutions vulnerable to cyberattacks. This is an unacceptable outcome that will jeopardize the safety of the public and homeland security and result in have and have-not communities, particularly in rural and economically disadvantaged areas.”
Under the current language in the reconciliation bill, $470 million would be used to fund a grant program designed to accelerate the deployment of IP-based NG911 technology in U.S. emergency call centers. The remaining $30 million in the bill would fund the establishment of an NG911 cybersecurity center and a Public Safety Advisory Board.
But this $500 million in the Build Back Better legislation is a far cry from the $10 billion in NG911 funding approved by a House committee in September that was included in a previous version of the reconciliation bill that proposed $3.5 trillion in spending.
Beltway and industry sources agreed that the $500 million included in the proposed budget-reconciliation bill would not be nearly enough to provide the kind of one-time federal funding envisioned to ensure that all 911 centers in 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia are using NG911 technology. In October 2018, a cost study was released that estimated it would cost between $9.5 billion to $12.7 billion in one-time federal funds to deploy solutions that would make NG911 a reality nationwide.
This sentiment was noted by the Public Safety Next Generation 911 Coalition in its letter to congressional leaders.
“The funding level included in the House-passed bill impedes a nationwide approach and we are gravely concerned that the promise of the legislative language will go unfulfilled,” the coalition letter states. “We remain deeply appreciative of those who have worked with us thus far and look to your leadership to achieve adequate funding for this most important public safety service.
“We urge Congress to provide full funding of $15 billion to ensure all Americans benefit from an overdue upgrade to our most critical infrastructure.”
Groups signing the coalition letter were the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA), the Major County Sheriffs of America (MCSA), the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, the National Association of State EMS Officials (NASEMSO), and the National Sheriffs’ Association.