Recent legislation – e.g., S. 911: Strengthening Public-safety and Enhancing Communications Through Reform, Utilization, and Modernization (SPECTRUM) – proposes more than $10 billion be allocated to modernize emergency communication systems. That total represents a significant investment in the nationwide U.S. public safety infrastructure. But in a time of constrained spending at all levels of government many critics question how much more funding is needed to “solve the problems” associated with non-interoperable communication systems.
Questions also have been asked about how the $4+ billion of federal funding already spent on communication grants since 2007 has been used. Obviously, some difficult decisions must be made related to future spending decisions, but those decisions will be better informed if policymakers look at the lessons learned from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Public Safety Interoperable Communications (PSIC) Grant Program.
In 2007, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and NTIA, an agency of the Department of Commerce (DoC), partnered to award nearly $1 billion in PSIC grant funding. Those grants, awarded in various totals to all 56 U.S. states and territories, represented a shift in federal funding norms – i.e., they were targeted to one specific purpose or capability, and were accompanied by more stringent rules than had ever before been imposed. Today, as those PSIC-funded projects near completion, the government can report specifically, and for the first time, what the $1 billion in taxpayer dollars has so far accomplished.
Through the strict reporting and oversight guidelines outlined in the Program Guidance and Application Kit, PSIC grant recipients were required to provide detailed project information to the NTIA/DHS program staff. That information would include but not be limited to application specifics, the project’s alignment with statewide communications strategies and sustainability plans, and such ancillary information as the precautions taken to ensure that, when a project is fully implemented, it would be environmentally compliant with federal and state regulations.
Those requirements, and others, could have presented a burdensome challenge to successful implementation of the various grants. However, because most if not quite all recipients spent the time needed to provide the data required, the federal government itself gained a much better understanding of the anticipated national-level impacts of the grant funding provided.
DHS and DoC interact closely, and on a continuing basis, with the more than 800 PSIC stakeholders – again, representing the 56 U.S. states and territories – to monitor the progress made in completing projects both on time and within budget. With the help of consultants such as Booz Allen and the Lafayette Group, the federal government maintains regular interactions and offers technical assistance to help State Administrative Agencies (SAAs) demonstrate the improved public-safety capabilities of their individual states (and of the cities, large and small, and other political communities in each state).
Checking the Data, Improving the System
Grant recipient data – including reports of how PSIC dollars have affected communities as well as programmatic, financial, and environmental decisions – is being compiled by the PSIC Program Office to demonstrate how the grant dollars provided have improved the interoperable communications landscape. In addition, commercial off-the-shelf tools (including Google Earth) are being used to: (a) visually depict project implementation; (b) illustrate the various localities that are directly or indirectly affected by PSIC funds; and (c) map the locations in which the nation’s interoperable communications infrastructure has been expanded.
These efforts have helped DHS and DoC monitor and assess the progress of the almost 6,000 projects funded by PSIC across the nation. After all PSIC projects have been completed, the federal government plans to share, with grant recipients, the information compiled and the overall performance results to provide a clear picture of the program’s success rate.
Although $1 billion may seem to be a relatively large infusion of grant dollars, it is relatively small compared to the estimated $15-57 billion the Federal Communications Commission has determined in its broadband network cost model published in May 2010 would be needed to modernize the nation’s communications networks to meet all local and national communications needs in the foreseeable future. By understanding where PSIC funding has been used and what assets and new technology have been implemented, grant recipients will be able to analyze that data to assist with their future communications planning needs.
Moreover, by requiring, receiving, analyzing, and sharing such a great wealth of grantee information, the federal government itself will be much better equipped to share data showing: (a) how these one-time grants have contributed to the overall improvement of communications interoperability throughout the nation; and (b) how the grant recipients, at all levels of government, can be true and faithful stewards of taxpayer dollars.
For additional information on: What it Takes to Transform Federal Aid, Ten Key Practices of Successful Fenderal Grant Programs visit http://www.boozallen.com/media/file/what-it-takes-to-transform-federal-aid.pdf
Google Earth, visit “http://www.google.com/earth/index.html”
PSIC’s Program Guidance and Application Kit, visit “http://www.ntia.doc.gov/psic/PSICguidance.pdf”
Nyla Beth Houser
Nyla Beth Houser (pictured), Senior Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, specializes in providing strategic guidance and management to federal policy, grant, and research and development programs. As a senior advisor to Booz Allen’s Grants Community of Practice and Cyber Center of Excellence, she has more than 11 years’ experience working with federal technology assistance programs. Her special expertise is in the intersection of public safety, criminal justice, and infrastructure and technology development issues. She currently manages a portfolio of efforts that assist the government with the design and administration of the full grants life cycle – including program design, interagency policy coordination, and the development of technical guidance.
Jessica Lance, Lead Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, has more than nine years of experience providing project management, communications policy, and strategy support to numerous federal government clients and, more specifically, has assisted with technology modernization, stakeholder coordination, public safety, and communications grants efforts. She currently manages an effort to assist the federal government in designing and administering interoperable communications grants, including those involving program development, interagency stakeholder coordination, post-award monitoring, and technical assistance. She is also a member of Booz Allen’s Grants Community of Practice and Cyber Center of Excellence.