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Bipartisan Policy Center Calls for Passage of Safety Net Bill

The Bipartisan Policy Center released a report Wednesday on progress toward implementation of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations and, somewhat surprisingly, creating an interoperable broadband public safety network did not get a red mark for "unfulfilled," though it was one of the nine major recommendations that the report identified as unfinished.

While the network has not been built or even authorized, Congress and state and local governments got a mark of "improvement needed," rather than the failing grade given to such things as standardized, secure IDs or biometric screening.

But that didn't mean the report pulled its punches on the unfinished recommendation. "Despite the lives at stake, the recommendation to improve radio interoperability for first responders has stalled because of a political fight over whether to allocate 10 MHz of radio spectrum -- the D-block -- directly to public safety for a nationwide network," said the report.

Not surprisingly, the report recommends that Congress should support a bill to immediately allocate that spectrum, to do so "swiftly," and to make sure devices on the network also work on commercial networks, though the report also says it does not necessarily represent the views of the center, its board or founders. It is, however, the product of the center's National Security Preparedness Group, which was launched to monitor the 9/11 Commission's 2004 recommendations.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) is the driving force behind a bill that would allocate the D-block and pay for it with proceeds from a broadcast incentive auction.

"The report is a wake-up call for everyone reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks," said Sen. Rockefeller.  "Implementing a national, interoperable radio system for our first responders is within our grasp.  It will save lives all across the country, and we owe it to first responders to get it done. There is bipartisan legislation awaiting Senate action that would accomplish this goal.  I urge my colleagues to join me and read this report card and rededicate themselves to getting this done."

Rockefeller had been pushing to get his bill, S. 911, to the president's desk by the tenth anniversary of 9/11, which is now a tall, if not impossible, order to fill.

The center is a nonprofit policy advocate launched by a quartet of senators in 2007. It describes itself as "a non-profit organization that drives principled solutions through rigorous analysis, reasoned negotiation and respectful dialogue" combining "politically balanced policymaking with strong, proactive advocacy and outreach."