Senators Seek Funds For Interoperability

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Chairman Susan Collins, R-Me., Senator Daniel Akaka, D-Hi., and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. – acting on lessons learned from the September 11th attacks – introduced legislation Wednesday to improve the sharing of homeland security information among first responders and all levels of government.

The Homeland Security Interagency and Interjurisdictional Information Sharing Act of 2004 would help first responders and preventers to purchase the interoperable communications equipment they need to execute effective emergency responses. It would also help close information gaps that continue to plague government officials at all levels by establishing a cross agency information network.

“Three years after the September 11th attacks, too many first responders still lack the basic ability to talk to one another during emergencies,” Lieberman said. “And key federal agencies still are not effectively sharing homeland security information among themselves, much less with state and local officials. We must act, and act boldly, to address these shortcomings if we are to prevent a repeat of past tragedies.”

“One of the most persistent messages I hear from Maine’s first responders is that interoperability of communications equipment remains a substantial impediment to their ability to respond to a terrorist attack,” said Collins. “Firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical personnel do an amazing job of providing aid when a neighboring town is in need. First responders’ defense of the front lines in the war against terrorism, however, is a national matter. First responders in every state are doing their part, but they need and deserve federal help. Our bill provides it.”

“It is time to act on one of the lessons learned on September 11th and provide first responders with the basic interoperable communications technology required to do their jobs and stay safe,” Akaka said. “This hole in emergency response capability has gone unfilled for too long.”

“One of the most important lessons learned from the September 11th terrorist attacks on our nation is the need for our first responders to be able to communicate quickly and effectively with each other,” Clinton said. “That is why we have long fought for additional resources for our first responders and why I strongly support this legislation. Our first responders risk their lives for all of us each and every day, the least the federal government can do is to provide them with the communications tools and equipment they need.”

The legislation would:

Authorize $3.3 billion over five years to provide a reliable and consistent funding source specifically for interoperability solutions.

Create an Office of Information Sharing within the Department of Homeland Security to develop and implement a national strategy and provide the leadership, outreach, and technical assistance necessary to achieve interoperability.

Require the Secretary of Homeland Security, with intelligence and other federal agencies, to establish a System-wide Homeland Analysis and Resource Exchange Network (SHARE) to assist in the sharing of homeland security information among all levels of government.

Require the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop an annual performance plan and evaluate senior officials on achieving measurable progress. Employees across government would be rewarded for developing innovative practices, procedures, or technologies to foster appropriate sharing of homeland security information.

The non-partisan Markle Foundation has said the Cold War paradigm of limited access to security information must give way to meet new challenges in the age of terrorism, where the first signs of potential attack could come from any number of directions.

The cost of achieving interoperability will not be inexpensive. The Department of Homeland Security has estimated the cost of modernizing land, mobile, radio (LMR) systems across the country at $40 billion, and a non-partisan task force of the Council on Foreign Relations recommended spending at least $6.8 billion over five years.