The House Government Operations Committee heard from the chair of the Public Safety Task Force (Commissioner Morrison, Department of Public Safety) on Tuesday. The Task Force was established under Act 78 to create a statewide communication system for first responders and law enforcement. She introduced her co-chair Barbara Neal, the Executive Director of the enhanced e911 board. Neal talked about the members of the task force and the work accomplished to date. They have held 30 meetings since the task force’s inception, but the Commissioner noted that there are some who think they have nothing to show for it.
Morrison assured the Committee that they are working as hard as possible and had issued three RFPs:
- To secure a project manager
- For a subject matter expert
- A private lawyer
The Task Force is hoping to finalize the selection of a project manager as soon as January 3rd. It is the hope that this individual will assist in the selection of the remaining two RFPs. They want someone they can trust and who works independent from vendors.
The reason the Task Force sought outside legal counsel is that there are five members of the task force who are not state employees and they wanted to have someone who will be ‘their attorney’ without worrying about an attorney from within the state who would use ‘state speak’ regardless of whether he/she comes from within the Department for Public Service (DPS) or State’s Attorney’s office
Morrison indicated that the bulk of the work will be done by the project manager and vendors with the task force providing oversight and decisions on ‘next steps’ to be taken. The former Commissioner applied for a federal grant of $9M dollars to use the money for regional operators as opposed to the way it is done now. Unfortunately that means the money came through a technology stream which limits the use of the money. The funds can only be used to improve the current system and cannot be used to create a regional operations system. It is a "use it or loose it" scenario so the Task Force is suggesting that they use the money on the part of the current system that might carry over to the new own. However they have been unable to identify such an opportunity.
Current there is $1M in general funds set aside to help pay for technical expertise with an additional $1M available if needed. The Task Force is assuming that it will need this additional funding in 2024 and will work with the Legislature to request the release of the funding.
Additionally, Morrison did not think the task force would make the September 2024 deadline and may need to work with the Legislature to adjust the deadlines accordingly. She commented that there is ‘no juice left’ to squeeze out of the members of the committee.
Representative Harrison, who is the liaison for the House Appropriations Committee, expressed his concern about the Task Force having access to the $2M without actually knowing what it's expenses would be. He also wanted some kind of assurance that the $9M would be used appropriately so that it would used going forward in the regional operations.
The Committee asked whether one or two pilot projects could be done before proceeding but Morrison said the task force didn’t think that pilot projects done in advance would be the way to go. She noted that the state is not going to build the infrastructure locally. If a local entity builds a backup system they need to maintain it. She added that e911 and dispatch are not the same thing which some people believe.
A report is expected to be released on January 12th and will provide greater detail.