Oversight

Watchdog questions 'aggressive' FirstNet timeline

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FirstNet officials says they will meet the deadline and budget goals for the nationwide wireless public safety network, but the Commerce Department's Office of Inspector General and the National Governors Association raised concerns about the project's groundwork during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on June 21.

The complex plan for the interoperable, broadband network for first responders is being funded largely from $7 billion of the proceeds of a 2012 spectrum auction.

FirstNet, an independent authority within Commerce, submitted a comprehensive request for proposals in May. The authority plans to choose a vendor in November and deliver final plans for deployment in 2017.

"FirstNet continues to honor our commitment to do what we set out to do on time and under budget," FirstNet CEO Michael Poth said.

However, Andrew Katsaros, Commerce's principal assistant IG for audit and evaluation, raised concerns in three main areas of ongoing risk -- acquisition management, internal controls and consultation with states -- and said they could impact what he called FirstNet's aggressive timeline.

Katsaros said FirstNet has taken past IG findings seriously and made progress on addressing recommendations but added, "If these three areas of short- and long-term risk are not addressed between now and the launch in approximately midyear 2018, implementation may not succeed.... I think there's a lot still unknown in this pre-award phase."

The deadline for vendors to respond to the RFP has passed, but he said awarding a contract by November "may prove difficult with everything left to accomplish."

Jeffrey McLeod, director of the Center for Best Practices' Homeland Security and Public Safety Division at the National Governors Association, relayed states' concerns about the network's ability to provide reliable coverage in rural areas. He also said state officials want more input into FirstNet's planning.

Poth said some of the states' concerns will influence whichever company FirstNet ultimately chooses and added that vendors understand the importance of operating in urban and rural areas. "What we're expecting back is how the vendor is proposing to facilitate all that," he said.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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