Traveling the Halls of Congress with NBFAA

Friday, June 1, 2007

WASHINGTON--I was an embedded reporter with the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association on Capitol Hill last month.
Well, that's what the folks at the NBFAA were calling me, and "embedded reporter" was how I was introduced to a staff member in Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson's (D-Texas) office at the first meeting of the day on May 2. The staffer looked worried and left, returning with a press secretary who invited me to hang out in the hallway, but not sit in on the meeting.
I got the run-down on the meeting from NBFAA staff Merlin Guilbeau and Michele Whitaker, Dave Simon (Brink's Home Security) and Kevin McGraw (Protection One), but we decided to drop the embedded bit and, thankfully, I wasn't kicked out of any other meetings.
Organized by NBFAA legislative director John Chwat, NBFAA's Capitol Hill Days, May 2 and 3, brought about 35 members of the NBFAA, some like Simon and Isaac Papier (Honeywell) who've spent a lot of time on the Hill and others like political neophytes Bob Michel, president of Valley Alarm in Sun Valley, Calif., who was trying his hand at lobbying for the first time.
Why were they here? Ron Foreman, of Bayou Fire & Security in Lake Charles, La., quoted Conroy Leblue, a candidate he worked for years ago: "He told me, 'Son, you're either in politics or you're a victim of it,'" he said, laughing. "That's why I'm here."
Other security and fire associations have well-oiled machines on the Hill. This marked NBFAA's first organized effort to "put a face on the industry that protects the infrastructure of the country," said George Gunning, NBFAA president.
Day one began with a breakfast briefing and a role-playing exercise to show how to effectively interact with Congressional members and staff. Everyone was given a briefing book on the issues, a list of appointments and key issues to cover during each appointment. The group was split up by home state and Chwat had set up appointments for each of the groups with senators and congressmen and congressional staffers. The issues discussed during the meeting varied according to committee assignments. So, for example, when the California delegation went to Sen. Diane Feinstein's office, the first order of business was federal background checks for security installers, because Feinstein sits on the Judiciary Committee--which has jurisdiction over this legislation.
It was interesting to see business competitors working together arguing their case. With the Texas Delegation in the morning, I listened to Simon and McGraw, representatives of two of the largest residential alarm companies in the country discuss why VoIP notification for consumers was important. Other issues on the docket included: extension of the AMPS sunset deadline; the College Life Safety and Fire Prevention Act, introduced on March 8 by Rep. Vito Fossella (F-N.Y.), who also addressed the group during lunch at the Capitol Hill Republican Club; a tax deduction for homeowners ($5,000) and business owners ($10,000) who have a professionally installed security system; and the "Long Term Care Safety Act," to mandate fire detection equipment in nursing homes, to be introduced by Rep Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.) this spring. Arcuri addressed the group on May 1 about the bill.
Comparing notes after their day on the Hill, the NBFAA crowd complained of tired feet, but the mood was upbeat. Bob Michel said he'd be back and others said they were eager to recruit more NBFAA members to get their views heard on the Hill.
"It's very important to have face to face meetings with senators and congressmen and staff," said Chwat, "and it helps my job immeasurably by providing a face to the industry and a connection to the constituents and corporations and suppliers we work with. It's also important for supporters of ours on Capitol Hill, like [Reps.] Vito Fossella and Michael Arcuri to see members of the industry."