Small firms hire lobbyists to push homeland security products

CoCo Communications, a Seattle startup firm, had an idea and a product for homeland security but few friends in Washington, D.C. So the 10-person firm hired the lobbying firm the Petrizzo Group to help it connect with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and officials in the Bush administration.

The product-a new protocol for multiple network wireless communications systems that can be used by "first responders" to emergencies-would provide a solution to a problem that several lawmakers say is urgently needed. On Sept. 11, 2001, because officials used different types of communications equipment, police, firemen and emergency workers could not communicate. Since then, the government has been scrambling to make such equipment interoperable.

"We are working with the Petrizzo Group to build awareness about our technology," said CoCo CEO and co-founder Mark Tucker. "We want folks on the Hill and in the regulatory agencies to be aware that here is one component to solving the first-responder problem."

CoCo's idea to hire a lobbying firm has been the latest trend over the past year among small and medium-sized high-tech companies previously uninvolved in government contracting. As of the end of November, more than 450 companies had filed lobbying registration forms with Congress, specifying that their main lobbying issue is "terror" or "security," according to Political MoneyLine, a nonprofit Web site that tracks federal election and lobbying filings.

Petrizzo Group is well-connected to Republican leaders with high-tech interests. The firm's founder, T.J. Petrizzo, previously was the chief of staff for Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., and before that worked for Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. Another recent hire is Kerry Fennelly, who handled government affairs and communications for the Electronic Industries Alliance and before that was a long-time aide to Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla.

Tucker hopes their initial round of meetings with lawmakers, which began over the past month, will result in securing a pilot program to show how the company's protocols can, in addition to fostering interoperability, resolve the difficult issues of connecting existing equipment securely while also taking advantage of available wireless spectrum.

Peter Erickson, CoCo's vice president of business development, said some other companies already are conducting pilot programs for first-responder communications systems, but he said none of them solve the issues of security, availability of spectrum and interoperability at once.

Tucker also is in talks with traditional defense contractors to determine if CoCo can partner with another firm for a pilot program, and CoCo's officials are sharing their ideas with local and state emergency officials. Without hiring Petrizzo, Tucker said his firm probably would have had to partner first with a large firm before conducting visits with lawmakers and agencies.

"We didn't have to come through a large contractor to talk with folks ... but that we have been able to get in front of folks directly has been positive and Petrizzo really helped us with that interface," Tucker said.