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FirstNet wants inspector general to finish ethics investigation

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The Special Review Committee investigating the board of the First Responders Network Authority (FirstNet) may be relieved of its duties with further investigation being turned over to the Commerce Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

During a closed session on Oct. 25, FirstNet Chairman Sam Ginn told board members he is asking the OIG to take over Phase 2 of the Special Review Committee's work. That phase of the investigation is supposed to target ethics and procurement issues.

"The outstanding procurement issues are complicated," Ginn said, adding FirstNet is working cooperatively with the inspector general.

FirstNet has been mired in controversy regarding a perceived lack of transparency and potential conflicts of interest related to certain board members' alleged ties to wireless carriers. It formed the Special Review Committee on May 8, in response to publicly stated concerns expressed by Paul Fitzgerald, a FirstNet board member, during an April 23 board meeting.

The internal review committee, headed by board member Wellington Webb, last month said it had found no evidence of illegal activities during Phase 1 of its investigation. That phase addressed the board's openness and transparency in decision making, board members' access to records and the plan being developed for the 700 MHz LTE Band 14 national public safety broadband network by FirstNet, which is overseen by the Commerce Department.

Yet despite recently committing to more transparency, FirstNet is apparently wary of becoming too translucent as it is trying to keep from public perusal Fitzgerald's FirstNet-related emails.

News organization Politico requested copies of Fitzgerald's emails regarding FirstNet on July 29. Fitzgerald, the sheriff of Story County, Iowa, subsequently turned over more than 7,100 emails--63 with references to FirstNet--to the Commerce Department, according to the Des Moines Register. The emails had been sent through Story County's e-mail service, and the county had declined to turn then over to the Commerce Department.

Concern over the emails led the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of FirstNet, to file a lawsuit seeking to keep the correspondence from being releasing to Politico and the public. The DoJ contends public knowledge of the emails' content would irreparably damage FirstNet's mission.

After a federal court issued a preliminary injunction blocking public release of those emails, Story County asked to have the injunction lifted, contending the emails are subject to Iowa state public-records requests. The DoJ has until mid-November to respond to the county's request, according to Urgent Communications, which also said a U.S. district court in Iowa is expected to eventually rule on the case.

Meanwhile, FirstNet's board last week voted today to extend spectrum lease negotiations with the executive office of the State of Mississippi and Motorola Solutions for the Bay Area Regional Interoperable Communications Systems Authority (Bay-RICS). The board further agreed to reopen discussions with the state of New Jersey and the Adams County Communications Center (ADCOM), in Colo. All of those spectrum-lease negotiations are slated to conclude by Nov. 15, 2013.

"I'm hopeful that this extra couple of weeks will result in finalizing agreements with these projects," said FirstNet Deputy General Manager TJ Kennedy.

FirstNet's board also voted to establish northern Virginia as its corporate headquarters and the Boulder, Colo., area as its technical, engineering and network design headquarters. Boulder is home to the Commerce Department's laboratories, including the Public Safety Communications Research program (PSCR).

For more:
- see this FirstNet release and this release
- see this Urgent Communications article and this article
- see this Des Moines Register article

Slideshow: FirstNet's ace in the hole is the PSCR labs

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