Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on Today's Executive Session

June 8, 2011

Chairman Rockefeller asks Sec. Locke questions about strengthening manufacturing in America.WASHINGTON, D.C.—Good morning, and welcome to today’s executive session. We have some very important bills on the agenda, and I know my colleagues will spend time speaking about them. I’m going to use my time to talk about one: S. 911, the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act. As I’ve made clear, passing this bill is my top priority this year. This bill marries smart spectrum policy with good public policy. It is a bipartisan, commonsense bill that will give our first responders the tools they need to do their jobs.

I am grateful to have a terrific partner—Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison—in this effort. We worked together, we made changes, and we’ve come up with a strong bipartisan bill that, hopefully, we will report out of this Committee today and move to the Senate floor.

I am also grateful for the support of the first responder community. I see many in the audience today. They want this bill passed as much as I do. Here’s why: This bill will give them the wireless resources they need to do their jobs and keep us safe. This bill will help prevent the kind of communications failures that occurred during rescue efforts at Ground Zero on 9/11.

On that terrible September day, first responders perished because they could not communicate with each other. They were using conflicting radio equipment operating on different bandwidths and frequencies. Calls were dropped. Critical on-the-ground information wasn’t relayed.

Four years later during Hurricane Katrina, rescue workers across the nation faced the same dangerous problem. They had to resort to running handwritten notes to warn of changing conditions. This is a travesty. And it’s one we have an opportunity to start correcting today.

We can bring first responders’ communications capability into the 21st century. We can give them the ability to share and disseminate information quickly, including fingerprints, floor plans of burning buildings and photos and videos, instantly. This is the same capacity many teenagers have on their smartphones today.

Now, I know several of my colleagues have amendments they’d like to offer. We will vote on these amendments. But I would urge everyone today to not lose track of the big picture—and the main point of this bill—which is to give first responders the tools they need to do their jobs.

We have an historic opportunity to get this done before the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The legislative clock is not forgiving. I hope my colleagues will join me in reporting this bill out of Committee today and moving it to the Senate floor. 

So with that, I will turn to Senator Hutchison. Thank you all very much.