By: Dave Gatton
They say “repetition is the essence of education.” When it comes to the impact of our FAMA/FEMSA Hill Days, nothing could be truer.
Hill Day 2018 was again a whirlwind, as 45 FAMA/FEMSA participants fanned across Capitol Hill to meet with 115 Congressional offices over a 24-hour period. Few organizations achieve that level of coverage in such a short time period, and it’s all due to the devoted members of FAMA and FEMSA who take the time out of their busy schedules to “blitz” the Hill with such an effective message: We are the North American industry that helps first responders save lives.
Our first objective was to thank members of Congress for their support of the reauthorization of the USFA, AFG and SAFER programs. Passage of the legislation, which extends these programs through FY 2023, was a nail-biter, clearing the Senate after passage in the House in the very last hour of the last day of the first session of the 115th Congress. Without passage, the AFG and SAFER programs would have died, subject to a sunset provision placed in the previous reauthorization.
The bill sailed through on the Unanimous Consent calendar in both chambers, which is nerve-wracking in itself. Only one member had to object in order to defeat the bill! But no one did. Unanimity is tough under any circumstance but in this Congress? In this political climate? It is a testament to the fire service organizations, led by CFSI and including FAMA and FEMSA, that members from both sides of the aisle support these first responder programs, and did so unanimously.
But this support didn’t just happen – nor will it automatically happen in the future. By holding our Hill Days for the last 14 years, beginning with our first “Night With Congress” in 2004, we have built up a reservoir of support from a core set of bi-partisan members of Congress. We have continually educated new members and new staff over those 14 years as they have entered Congress. All this repetition, all this going up and explaining who we are year after year paid off. We didn’t get lucky. We made our luck by showing up continuously and driving our message home that the AFG and SAFER programs, in addition to helping first responders, also help U.S. businesses and the communities in which they are located.
Fortuitously, Congress passed its omnibus appropriations bill for FY 2018 weeks before we arrived for Hill Day, funding the AFG and SAFER programs at $350 million each, a $5 million plus-up over FY 2017. This is modest progress, but progress nonetheless. For FY 2019, our Hill Day message is to fund each program at the $405 million, their FY 2011 level. The fact that we are working our way back to the level of funding in 2011 shows how difficult the federal budgetary environment is and how unique it is to receive any increase in these times.
I have been in this town over 35 years, and during that time I have not seen a more effective, bi-partisan coalition than the Fire Service. Your work and devotion to Hill Days make a difference, and they will continue to make a difference for our nation’s first responders.
Remember, the drumbeat must continue. It is absolutely worthwhile. We just proved it.
Special Note: To culminate our 2018 Hill Day, it was refreshing to see our new Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen address the 30th annual Fire Dinner on the evening of April 19th to praise the work of the nation’s first responders. She was followed by Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer who was equal in his praise, and who always acknowledges Curt Weldon, his former Republican colleague, for his leadership in establishing the Congressional Fire Caucus. This was a fitting expression of bipartisanship in a town that desperately needs it.
SUCCESS IS A TEAM EFFORT
On behalf of FEMSA and FAMA member companies, we acknowledge the outstanding contributions of several individuals and organizations whose leadership has paved the way for the recent reauthorization, AFG, and SAFER successes. Please join us in thanking CFSI Bill Webb and Sean Carroll; our GAC John Granby, Lee Morris, and advisory team Dave Gatton, Joni Goodman, James Kirby, and Jillian McNamara; and, all other organizations that together comprise the Fire Service Coalition.
The FEMSA and FAMA Boards of Directors