An Insider’s View: Security Goes to Washington

May 20, 2024
Kirk MacDowell gives us an inside look at the second SIA/ESA Security Hill Day, where advocates for the security industry descended on Capitol Hill

This article originally appeared in the May 2024 issue of Security Business magazine. Don’t forget to mention Security Business magazine on LinkedIn and @SecBusinessMag on Twitter if you share it.

As comfortable as industry experts may feel discussing concerns relating to the security and life safety with each other during industry events and meetings, the discussion takes on a significant new twist when asked to advocate for our trade on Capitol Hill. Although many of our industry colleagues have met with Congressional Staff, Senators, and Congress members on prior occasions, it is always a bit unnerving for many of us to meet and talk with Congress members. 

That feeling quickly dissipated at the Second Annual Security Hill Day, thanks to our hosts from the Electronic Security Association (ESA) and Security Industry Association (SIA). Jake Braunger, ESA’s Vice President of Advocacy and Public Affairs, and Colby Williams, SIA’s, Associate Director of Government Relations, worked tirelessly to prepare all participants so our message was direct and on point as we met with Congressional members and staff.

For years, SIA and ESA had separate “walks on the Hill.” Thanks to industry association leaders Don Erickson (SIA) and Merlin Guilbeau (ESA), these two great organizations have orchestrated back-to-back cohesive Capitol Hill Days, working together for the betterment of the industry.

Security industry leaders completed 53 meetings and spoke with representatives about topics such as additional school security funding, border security and technology to assist the U.S. Border Patrol, technology workforce development, Artificial Intelligence, and tax policy – to name a few.

ESA attendees included: James Marcella, Scott Dunn, and Dave McCarthy of Axis Communications; Kasia Moore of Everon; Brendan Armstrong Jr and Brendan Armstrong Sr. of Trinity Wiring & Security Solutions; Mark Hillenburg of DMP; David Fisch and Jane Klein of Security Engineering Associates; Lindsay Westfield of NRG Energy; Stephen Butkovich and Tommy Whisnant of CPI Security Systems; Robert Few of The Connection Xchange; Dr. Shane Clary of Bay Alarm Company; John Loud of LOUD Security Systems; John Nemerofsky of SAGE Integration; Holly Borgmann and Tiffany Galarza of ADT; and Jason Lutz of Resideo.

In all, ESA/SIA members could choose between nine security topics to discuss, and each participant was provided with a policy overview booklet, so we were well briefed and prepared for our meetings.

Kicking things off the night before was Congressman Jay Obernolte (CA-23) talking about how Congress is approaching the issue of AI.

We then began our day on Capitol Hill. Meetings were scheduled about an hour and a half apart – providing us enough time to visit the Capital gift shop, enjoy some Capitol cafeteria food, and regroup for the next meeting. At one point, some of us were sitting next to a Marine 4-Star General in the cafeteria who couldn’t have been nicer and more accommodating. In all, most of us had 3-5 meetings scheduled.

A policy breakfast session featured special guests Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas) covering homeland security and border security needs; Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) providing an update on House Appropriations Committee’s work on homeland security; and Kelly Murray, associate director for chemical security at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), highlighting the need for Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards reauthorization.

Attendees also heard from key congressional leadership staff on several key issues and the political operations of the House Majority Whip’s Office.

The Top Advocacy Issues: Workforce Development, Tax Relief

“The workforce development legislation, along with tax relief, were critical issues for this year’s Security Hill Day,” Braunger says. “Our members are worried about whether there will be enough technicians in the industry in the near future, and many also rely on the tax relief found in the research and development tax credits. ESA has launched grassroots campaigns to support both bills and members from around the country traveled to make sure Congress was working to address it.” 

The Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act is bipartisan legislation that would enable families, students, and workers to use their 529 savings plan funds on recognized skills training and credentials such as occupational licenses and professional certifications. While 529 savings plans were originally created to help people attend universities, this legislation would expand it to support additional career options. It would provide valuable tax-advantaged resources to those who want to pursue a career in the security industry.

The Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024 bill would restore and extend three essential pro-growth business tax policies: the deduction for domestic research and development expenses, 100% bonus depreciation and a cap on deducting business interest expenses that leads to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).

These provisions are essential to U.S. security firms, including startups, that are leading the way in technical innovation, as well as helping businesses of all sizes make investments in facilities and equipment that improve safety and security for their employees and patrons. 

This legislation has already passed the U.S. House by a large bipartisan vote of 357-70. 

The meetings were found to be extremely positive and elected officials from both sides of the aisle were very supportive of our united stance. While concerns over funding of the federal government persist, members of Congress pledged to continue to work to support the industry.

My Takeaway

Do meetings with Congress and staff have an impact? I can say unequivocally yes! About 10 years ago, I enjoyed a similar privilege of attending meetings with members of Congress and staff on Capitol Hill.

The hot-button issue for security at the time was about early warning smoke detection and sprinkler systems. The sprinkler lobbyists were better funded than us and made a significant impact speaking to members and staff. I met with a staffer, and we discussed the operation and differences of both for 20 minutes.

The following year, I was asked to participate in another Capitol Day event, and as luck would have it, I met with the same staffer. I was prepared to speak on an entirely different subject, but she said “I remember you. You taught me the difference between a smoke detector and a sprinkler system.” She told me that when she went back to her apartment, she told her boyfriend that he had to go out and purchase smoke detectors as their apartment was not adequately covered.

Our industry is busy, and I believe that we sometimes get so caught up in leading our companies that we may forget that we are an industry that contributes $110 billion to the economy and provides more than 1.74 million jobs in the United States and Canada.

Bottom line, we secure the future and ensure a safer world. Congress understands and it would be hard pressed to find an industry that is not as well received by members of Congress as the Security and Life Safety Industry.

Kirk MacDowell is President of MacGuard Security Advisors Inc. He is deeply involved in the ESA and was named the association’s Sara E. Jackson Award winner in 2023 for his work within the organization. This article was adapted from ESA and SIA blog posts on the event.

About the Author

Kirk MacDowell

Kirk MacDowell is the founder and president of MacGuard Security Advisors, Inc., a business consulting firm for the electronic security industry. For more information about the company, visit