Legislation which will make it easier for first responders to acquire new equipment and technologies they need to respond to evolving threats was passed by the House today.
First introduced as the First Responder Access to Innovative Technologies Act in 2016 by Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, his re-introduced legislation passed by the House, the First Responder Access to Innovative Technologies Act of 2017 (HR 687), requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to develop a transparent process to review requests by first responders to use their Urban Area Security Initiative or State Homeland Security Grant Program funds to purchase equipment for which voluntary industry standards do not exist.
In response to House passage of his bill, Payne said, "in order to keep our communities safe, equipment for first responders must keep pace with the evolving threats those first responders face. So, it’s extremely dangerous that many first responders are unable to acquire advanced equipment because of restrictions on the use of homeland security grant funds. This bill makes sure that first responders have the right tools to do their jobs safely and effectively.”
“As the threats that first responders have to tackle continue to evolve, it is critical that they have the equipment necessary to respond,” Payne said. “Many first responders, however, [were] unable to acquire advanced equipment because they [were] not permitted, by law, to use their homeland security grant funds to purchase it. This legislation will equip first responders with the tools needed to do their jobs better and safer by requiring FEMA to establish a clear, transparent process to review requests to purchase innovative technologies with homeland security grant funds.”
Under current law, his office explained, “equipment purchased with Urban Area Security Initiative or State Homeland Security Grant Program funding [was] required to meet or exceed national voluntary consensus standards. Although FEMA does review grantee requests to purchase equipment that does not meet consensus standards, stakeholders … complained that the process lacks uniformity, predictability and transparency. Moreover, there [was] no process to review requests to purchase equipment for which no consensus standards exist. The process for developing voluntary consensus standards for first responder equipment [was] slow and [had] not kept pace with the evolution of technology or the demands of first responders."
Specifically, the First Responder Access to Innovative Technologies Act of 2017 amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to direct FEMA to implement a uniform process for reviewing applications that contain explanations to use grants provided under the Urban Area Security Initiative or the State Homeland Security Grant Program to purchase equipment or systems that do not meet or exceed any applicable national voluntary consensus standards," Payne’s office said.
When Payne first introduced the legislation 2016 and it was passed by the House, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office praised the legislation as a “commonsense step to help our first responders stay ahead of the curve when dealing with new threats.”