Lame ducks and partisan muck: Security bills await action in D.C.

Monday, October 22, 2012

YARMOUTH, Maine—Can the upcoming lame-duck session of Congress get off the ground, or will the nation’s business—and legislation of interest to the security industry—continue to grind along in the jaws of partisan gridlock?

Members of the U.S. House and Senate left a lot on the table when they exited Washington in September to hit the campaign trail, which means they have that much more to deal with before the end of the year. They did manage to get something done, however: passage of a continuing resolution for fiscal year 2013, which funds the federal government for another six months.

Left hanging in the balance was sequestration, $109 billion in automatic spending cuts for 2013 that are scheduled to go into effect unless Congress and the president agree to an alternative. Also unresolved were funding levels for many security initiatives, including cybersecurity and port programs.

Marcus Dunn, director of government relations for the Security Industry Association, didn’t rule out action in the lame-duck session on an omnibus bill that would include provisions for the industry.

“The lame duck could be active,” he told Security Systems News. “There are several scenarios. The continuing resolution is currently pushed out to March, but that doesn’t mean they can’t or wouldn’t try to address [sequestration] in the lame duck.”

SIA was closely following cybersecurity issues on Capitol Hill and was expecting an executive order on the subject from President Obama, Dunn said.

“Campaigns are sensitive, so they might want to stay away from it until after the election,” he said. “They’ve been getting some push-back on the Hill about it.”

Dunn said that while it didn’t appear the cybersecurity initiatives would have much of an impact on the world of physical security, “the challenge is looking down the road and trying to understand where the industry is going and how it is going to interact with cybersecurity.”

“I don’t think anybody denies that as you get more and more of these networks [and] security-based systems in the cloud, there’s going to be an impact somewhere,” he said.

On the state level, protection of critical infrastructure has drawn a lot of legislative attention recently. Initiatives in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey would promote and improve safeguards for bridges, mass transit, communications and other systems deemed vital to public and economic security.

“Once the FY ’13 [budget] legislation is passed, we should see the continuance of grant money flowing to the states that could be applied to protecting their critical infrastructure,” Dunn said. “It’s encouraging that states are doing more in this area.”

Dunn said the bill pending in New Jersey, A.2285, could serve as a model for other states. It proposes a tax exemption on the sale of security-related goods to enhance protection of a property that the state determines is critical infrastructure.

“When you’ve got legislation like this in New Jersey, and let’s say one of [SSN’s] readers lives in Ohio, they could take that same legislation down to their statehouse and say, ‘Hey, would you guys be interested in doing something like this?’” Dunn said. “If you’ve got a good idea, [state legislators] are looking for positive things to work for and to work on.”