By Bob Cusack - 04/12/06 12:00 AM EDT
Lawmakers were reminded last week that they are eligible for an emergency Homeland Security calling card after The Hill reported that many legislators do not possess it.
A message posted on the House intranet Thursday stated, “The Government Emergency Telecommunications Service (GETS) provides Members of Congress with a GETS ‘calling card,’ which may be used to make high priority telephone calls during times of extreme congestion, such as in a national emergency.
“If you are a Member of Congress who is not in possession of a GETS card … please contact the [House Chief Administrative Officer] Technology Support Call Center.”
It is unclear if a similar message was posted on the Senate side. A spokeswoman for the Senate sergeant of arms did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The Hill last week reported that 15 of 41 lawmakers surveyed did not have a GETS card, which gives users priority telecommunications access.
Among those who were unfamiliar with GETS included Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine) and members of the House Homeland Security Committee.
While many lawmakers do not have a GETS card, some lobbyists do. The government approves private-sector applications if it is convinced that an applicant would play some role in responding to a national emergency.
Some Washington groups were unaware of GETS until recently. The Council on American-Islamic Relations submitted an application last week, arguing that it should have access to GETS because it is the largest American Muslim organization in the United States and it was a major point of contact with the American Muslim community after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The request was denied in less than three hours. The government contractor explained that the group does not qualify for priority over lifesaving, law enforcement, the military, the National Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other members of the national-security emergency-preparedness community.