IG Says FirstNet Needs Better Oversight

According to a Department of commerce Inspector General's report, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), set up under Commerce's National Telecommunications & Information Administration, has been insufficiently monitored by commerce on financial and disclosure matters.

That comes as the FCC's AWS-3 auction is winding down, which will supply over $7 billion to fund and operate the network.

For starters, the report found that Commerce did not have the requisite information on FirstNet financial disclosure files or information on FirstNet board members. Those members did not file timely disclosure reports.

"One Board member initially did not file a required public disclosure—and, when eventually doing so, did not disclose an interest in a conflicting company," the IG said. "Another Board member submitted the required public disclosure form 5 months late. Two others submitted inaccurate time-and attendance records, in one case to avoid filing the required public financial disclosure. Finally, all four of these Board members continued to engage in decision making, even though they were not in compliance with the financial disclosure requirements."

The IG said the board's procedures for monitoring conflict of interest definitely need improving.

Then there is the contracting issue. The IG found insufficient transparency in the awarding of contracts or oversight in hiring. There was also not a procedure to prevent paying erroneous costs. The report said concerns remain about lack of competition in contracts and conflicts of interest.

The IG investigation was conducted after a FirstNet board member complained about procurement related issues back in April 2013.

House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) has long been concerned about how FirstNet was operating and said his subcommittee would hold hearings in the new Congress on the issue.

"Unfortunately, the Inspector General’s report confirms what we have suspected and long feared - that FirstNet had been operating without proper processes and with disregard for laws that guard against impropriety," Walden said in a statement.

"Questions of ethics threaten the legitimacy of FirstNet’s efforts and ultimately undermine its important mission to build a nationwide public safety broadband network. We will continue our thoughtful oversight and hold additional hearings early next year and expect to see significant progress in implementing the Inspector General’s recommendations.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.