Homeland Security Is Job One

Guest Commentary

The 9/11 Commission Report—which
ought to be required reading for each of us—lays out in chilling detail a
state of communications unreadiness that seriously inhibited the country's
ability to respond on that terrible day. Our challenge now is to make sure that
we are ready next time by enabling our citizens—particularly our first
responders—to communicate through a reliable, interoperable and redundant
communications system.

This is clearly the FCC's job. This agency has the specific
national-security responsibility, stipulated in Title I of our statute, to
ensure the safety of our people through the communications networks.

It has been three years since 9/11. In that time, the FCC has allocated
spectrum to public safety [and implemented and struggled with complex technical
issues]. We have convened councils with industry. Advisory committees have had
meetings, and our government partners have begun to reorganize.

The FCC is working hard. But the government still lacks a
well-understood, aggressive, nationwide plan to ensure that
every public-safety organization has access
to a reliable system that they can use anywhere, to talk to any other first responder, in any emergency. That just doesn't exist today, but it
can and it should.

The Government Accounting Office states that "a fundamental barrier to
successfully addressing interoperable communications problems for public safety
has been the lack of effective collaborative, interdisciplinary and
intergovernmental planning." House Government Reform Subcommittee Chairman
Christopher Shays [R-Conn.] has called on the FCC to take a more active role
and says it's going to be costly if we don't. There is a void out there to
fill, and I believe this agency needs to fill it.

We need a collaborative approach, and I think we have to consider having
the FCC step into the breach. One approach might be for the commission to
create an office that focuses exclusively on helping local public-safety
organizations to share ideas, vet proposals, prepare plans, and coordinate them
with both government and industry. If we lack the resources to do this, I am
for going to Congress and asking for them.

This Report repeatedly catalogues
communications breakdowns and examples of poorly protected critical
infrastructures. It recommends legislation to increase the assignment of
spectrum for public safety. The Report is
strong on recommending efforts to protect both government and private
communications facilities. The FCC is the expert on these issues. But
amazingly, in my reading, the Report never
mentions the FCC. So we have to get ourselves more front and center on these