FirstNet appoints special review committee to investigate its practices

The board of the First Responders Network Authority (FirstNet) approved the creation of a special review committee to investigate whether the board has complied with federal rules that apply to its hiring, sourcing and meeting practices in its efforts to set up the LTE-based National Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN).

The review committee was sought at the board's regularly scheduled April 23 meeting by board member Paul Fitzgerald, sheriff of Story County, Iowa, who alleged a number of improprieties and questionable backroom dealings at FirstNet. His request for a review committee was tabled at that meeting.

Fitzgerald did not participate in the special teleconference held on May 8, during which the review committee's formation was announced. The board was notified less than 30 minutes prior to the meeting that Fitzgerald was in the hospital due to an undisclosed issue.

In a letter submitted to the board and read aloud during the May 8 teleconference, Fitzgerald reiterated the need for an "independent, comprehensive investigation of the conflict of interest, transparency and procurement issues" he previously raised.

"The issues raised by Sheriff Fitzgerald at the last board meeting must be addressed thoroughly and promptly," said FirstNet Board Chairman Sam Ginn. "I will do everything I can as chairman of this board to follow their recommendations and keep us focused on our shared commitment to the millions of public-safety users who need the broadband network we are here to build."

Ginn promised to "work personally" in the next few weeks on a path forward to energize the board and make it more productive.

The independence of the new special review committee could be moot, given that most of the members are also FirstNet board members who will, in essence, be reviewing their own activities.

Ginn appointed Wellington Webb, a FirstNet board member and former mayor of Denver, to head the special review committee.

Other members of the committee include FirstNet board members Chuck Dowd, assistant chief of the New York City Police Department; Jeff Johnson, CEO of the Western Fire Chiefs Association; and retired telecom executive Ed Reynolds. The committee will also include three federal officials who represent the permanent federal board members: Tony West from the U.S. Department of Justice, Suzanne Spaulding from the Department of Homeland Security, and Dana Hyde from the Office of Management and Budget.

Specifically, the committee will look at FirstNet's compliance with applicable federal hiring and procurement rules, conflict-of-interest rules, and open meeting requirements. Assistance will be provided as needed by "subject matter experts" and the Department of Commerce. The temporary committee will report results of its investigation to the full FirstNet board "as soon as practical" and will then disband.

Separately, board member Sue Swenson reported on her work as lead negotiator with the state of Texas and the seven jurisdictions that received grants from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) for public-safety wireless broadband projects. She said substantial progress has been made on a final spectrum lease agreement that will allow the projects to move forward using FirstNet's 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum, but she requested and was granted a 30-day extension to wrap up negotiations. The deadline is now June 12, 2013.

Earlier in the week, FirstNet announced plans for a summer-long series of consultations with states, tribes, territories and localities. FirstNet will conduct regional workshops in six regions and will also meet with each state individually during the consultation process. The  six regional workshops will be held May 15-16 in Washington, DC; May 21-22 in Denver; May 29-30 in San Francisco; June 12-13 in St. Louis; June 19-20 in Boston; and June 26-27 in Memphis.

For more:
- see this FirstNet release and this release

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