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Review Committee: FirstNet is Operating Transparently

The organization overseeing the development of the interoperable broadband emergency communications network being funded with proceeds from broadcaster spectrum auctions has been conducting its business in an open and transparent manner and did not withhold records from board members or produce a plan without vetting it with the board or public safety stakeholders.

That was the conclusion of a special committee reviewing allegations leveled by board member Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald in April.

Fitzgerald, in a resolution, raised concerns during an April 23 board meeting about whether the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) was giving board members equal access to records and whether its network plan was being developed without input from all board members and Public Safety Advisory Board members.

The resolution was tabled by a special committee that was formed to investigate the concerns.

Fitzgerald had issues with, among other things, briefing and conference calls outside of board meetings, which he said had not been publicly announced or disclosed. The committee, which included representatives of the  Attorney General's office, the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Homeland Security, concluded the calls and briefings did not constitute decisionmaking, voting or narrowing of any options for the network.

As to board members having access to information, Fitzgerald said he was unable to get access on information regarding how outside consultants for the project were picked and how much they were paid. The committee concluded that there were delays in providing full financial info to the board, but that the information was eventually provided. As to unequal access, the committee said that was partly the result of setting the board up quickly, with some members holding dual roles. It also pointed out that since there were now four permanent committees, "there will be instances in which committee members have more information about the subject matter of their committee than will other Board members," which it points out is not atypical of boards in general.

Fitzgerald had complained that FirstNet's plan for the network was flawed because it did not include alternatives, was not vetted by the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSA), and was sufficiently advanced to foreclose effective input from stakeholders.

The review committee concluded the planning document submitted to the board had not been a "plan" and was not intended to prelude further discussion or alternatives. It was described as "brainstorming" submitted to the board for informational purposes only. "The Board did not vote on the Planning Document, nor did FirstNet staff represent to the Board that the Planning Document was intended to be a fully developed plan ripe for Board action," said the review committee. "And it appears evident...that the Board never regarded the Planning Document as a final network plan."

The committee is preparing a second report on procurement and ethics to be released "in the coming months," and will hold off on recommendations on all the issues it is examining until that time.